Laguna Atascosa refuge to offer biking tours

The Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge is starting off the new year with new activities for the public to participate in.

In addition to the usual birding tours and tram rides the park hosts every week, residents of the Rio Grande Valley interested in seeing the Bahia Grande can participate in leisurely biking tours.

“The tour is basically a way to give access to the Bahia Grande unit which is closed off to the public unless there are activities going on. We know biking is growing in Brownsville, so we wanted to give people a taste of what the Bahia Grande will be like once it’s open,” said Marion Mason, lead ranger at the park.

The 7.5 mile guided tours start Saturday, Jan. 16 and will continue each Saturday from 1-4 p.m. up until the end of March.

Riders will go along a caliche trail through coastal prairies and salt water bays.

The tour is meant to be ridden at a slow pace, Mason said.

“We’re gearing towards families because we’ll be going at a slow, leisurely pace. So this may not be for the hardcore biker wanting to ride miles and miles,” Mason said. “If they just want to get in and see an area not open to the public before, though, they’re welcome.”

Non-bikers will have their chance to see the Bahia Grande on Feb. 13 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.Vehicles will be permitted to drive into the area along a one-way seven mile road.

“It will go through the entire unit, and people will be able to stop and look at things along the way, whether it is the prairie, the bodies of water, or to look at the bird activity,” Mason said.

For many years, the Bahia Grande unit was privately owned and was not open to the public. It was then turned over to the Fish and Wildlife Services.

Ever since, the Bahia Grande has been undergoing a restoration phase to restore the waters that have been blocked off from the Laguna Madre, Mason said.

Because it will be open in the future, Mason encourages the public to see what the Valley was like before the land was developed.

“Unfortunately, here in the Valley, over 95 percent of the habitats have become something else. This is an area that, although used for cattle grazing, you don’t really get that impression because it still looks natural,” Mason said.

“It’s what the Valley used to be like before a lot of development came along and changed the habitat.”