Park problems: Late-night activity leads city to weigh changing nature sites’ hours

Volunteers are blaming ongoing thefts of plants and equipment at Hugh Ramsey Nature Park on the malfunctioning gate at the entrance of the park

HARLINGEN — Concerns about late-night activities prompted the Parks and Recreation Department board to green-light parks officials to write a new ordinance limiting public hours at Hugh Ramsey Nature Park and the Harlingen Thicket.

The board, responding to complaints visitors made to city officials, agreed Tuesday to allow Parks Director Javier Mendez to write a new ordinance revising the hours and take it to the City Commission.

All city parks are open to the public between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. The new ordinance would carve out an exception for the two nature parks, with new hours from sunrise to sunset.

“There are people still in the parking lot at nine or 10 o’clock at night, and so we know that they’re not birdwatching,” Mendez said. “So what we would like to do to be able to deter some of these activities is to change the hours at Hugh Ramsey and at the Thicket. What we want to do is use the same hours that we use for the Arroyo Trail, which is sunrise to sunset.”

The board unanimously approved the measure.

“I think it’s a very good idea, because this has been an ongoing issue for some time,” said board member Diana Esparza.

Mendez said the parks department has been working with the Harlingen Police Department on attempting to monitor the late-night action at Hugh Ramsey.

“They were suggesting that they do certain things, so what they’re doing is increasing their patrols and actually getting out of their units and walking the trails,” Mendez said. “But we do have cameras there and I think they’re also recommending for us to add more cameras.”

Board member Abel Hernandez said he has had personal, family insight into the problems at Hugh Ramsey.

“I know I’ve taken my son out there a couple times, and it’s not a safe place to be with kids,” Hernandez said.

“My little brother goes jogging through there and somebody pulled out a gun on him last week, there at the place when he was running,” Hernandez added. “They were trying to lure him and call him and call him, and he kept running and the car kept following him, and finally he stopped and said, ‘What the hell’s your problem?,’ and the guy pulled out a gun, and he took off running. He was pretty shook up on that.”

Hernandez suggested a strip of mesquite trees and brush which block the Hugh Ramsey parking lot from being visible from the street could be trimmed to open up the view.

Mendez agreed, but said that area was recently re-vegetated by the Texas Master Naturalists, and his department would first have to check with the master naturalists as well as the Arroyo Colorado Audubon Society before proceeding.

rkelley@valleystar.com