STAFF WRITER JARED FIELDS
BURNET — Just over a month after a wildfire at Inks Lake State Park, the public will have a unique opportunity to view what happens to Hill Country terrain as plant life returns to the area.
The fire burned through southern portions of Inks Lake State Park in late July and destroyed a few older junipers, one deer blind, and trail signage. Nearly 50 total groups and 10 state agencies — along with favorable wind conditions — helped prevent a July 29 wildfire from spreading and destroying more than it did.
Now, state park staff are tasked with managing the land as growth begins.
“For the most part, our natural resource plan is to let things occur naturally,” said Inks Lake State Park interpreter Lindsay Pannell. “The only alterations we’ll be making are to make sure the trails are safe for people to walk on.”
Trails affected by the fire will be cleared about 5 feet on each side, Pannell said. After that, nature will play itself out.
If a tree poses a danger to people on a trail then it will be cut down or moved. Otherwise, dead trees and fallen trees are going to be left alone.
It’s part of the natural cycle.
Since Europeans arrived to the Hill Country, wildfires have been controlled. Land management has included fences and grazing livestock in concentrated numbers. Believe it or not, the Hill Country was a grassland before settlers arrived. Bison and antelope grazed the area and cedar trees were found only near streams or steep canyons. Frequent natural wildfires occurred less, and, over time, the area turned into brushland.
That brief history lesson only illustrates the potential park staff see for the land’s future after the fire.
“We want you to see this, to see how it’s going to grow back, and how (dead trees) become life and housing for other creatures,” Pannell said.
However, the park isn’t ready for visitors to see everything just yet.
“The biggest concern right now are our baby plants. The little grasses and other foliage that’s coming up, they’re very delicate right now,” Pannell said. “We have to be super careful with the public and letting them on our property that’s burned.”
Primitive camping is expected to be open within the next two months. The hiking trails might not open until sometime in early 2019.
“I would love for them to be open sometime early next year, mainly because it takes a lot of manpower to make those trails safe, to put signage back up, and to start our education campaign,” Pannell said.
That education campaign and signage will include telling park visitors to adhere to trails and camp sites and the reasons not to veer off the path.
As plants grow back, the real show is expected to be next spring – as long as enough rain falls.
“Wildflower season is usually on-point the next year after a fire like this,” Pannell said. “We might have a really bumper year.”
Pannell said Inks Lake State Park will compile monthly drone shots on its social media accounts to show the progress. However, park visitors are prohibited from using drones in state parks. The drone images will come from authorized park staff.
For more information about Inks Lake State Park, call (512) 793-2223.