RIO HONDO — A waterside destination park to rival Adolph Thomae Jr. County Park downriver is moving quickly forward in this city as officials seek $1 million in grants to fund the project.
The site eventually will cover 35 acres on the west bank of the Arroyo Colorado along Harris Road and will include the city-owned boat ramp already operating there. All the development will be south of the boat ramp area.
“We want Rio Hondo to be a destination place,” City Administrator Ben Medina said Tuesday. “What’s fabulous about this is we are tying our park to the other parks in Harlingen, traveling by canoe or kayak, and the cities will do a joint resolution designating this concept. And we hope that we’re successful with our funding.”
Medina said a $500,000 grant has been pledged by the Valley Baptist Legacy Foundation. On Tuesday, the city submitted its request for an additional $500,000 from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s Non-Urban Outdoor Program.
The project will include environmental education facilities, walking and hiking trails, interpretive signs, wildlife habitat and other nature-related amenities, as well as restrooms and a 16-spot RV park.
An artist’s conception of the site shows a pavilion, an outdoor workout spot and three birdwatching blinds in an area where native plants will be restored. A river view lookout is planned, as well as a sure-to-be popular fishing pier.
One complicating factor is the potential designation of some of the area to be developed as wetlands, which adds layers of potential environmental study before projects can be green-lighted.
“Those are the types of things we’re going to encounter as we go through the process,” Mayor Gus Olivares said Tuesday. “It’s always a work in progress and I can’t be specific about the areas and stuff like that. Are we going to encounter that when we’re looking at doing anything along the arroyo? Of course.
“It’s just something that we’ve got to eventually follow through on, whatever process that has to be made available to move forward,” he added.
A major park project here in Rio Hondo takes on added significance as the city recovers from the disruptions to both traffic and its local economy due to the closure of the yellow mechanical lift bridge over the arroyo for nearly two years.
The retrofitted bridge reopened in June 2018, and Olivares believes the destination park concept is a way to refocus residents as well as rejuvenate the local business community.
“The people I’ve been talking to, a lot of them are excited because we’ll be able to attract people from different areas of the Valley,” he said. “The more people who stay in our city, they eventually spend more money in our community, to help our businesses grow.
“We’ve gotten a lot of good feedback in regards to that,” he added. “Does it come with maintenance and other costs as well? The answer is yes. If we want our community to grow, we’ve got to implement stuff like this which will bring other people into our community.”
The site for the proposed park is on the west side of the Arroyo Colorado, across from the city’s downtown area. Much of the site is high bluff, although it slopes down toward the boat ramp area and its launch bays on its north end.
Medina said over the past three years the city has added about five acres to the original site and plans to acquire the rest of the acreage necessary for the park.
The boat ramp, which charges no fee to launch into the Arroyo Colorado, is modern and in good shape, and receives a surprising amount of traffic despite being far upriver from the mouth of the Arroyo Colorado where it flows into the Laguna Madre.
“We are going to be able to use the boat ramp for loading and unloading for boats, which is something that is being used by a lot of people now,” Olivares said. “Agencies like Texas Parks and Wildlife, the Border Patrol, and even businesses that sell boats in other cities come to Rio Hondo to try out their boats, to make sure they satisfy their customers.”