Nature-Based Tourism Rates High in Texas
By Dorothea S. Michelman
Texas’s tourism industry advocates conserving natural resources, preserves, animal habitats and encourages a laid-back rural lifestyle. Also known as “Ecotourism” it couples important economic benefits with a variety of outdoor activities, among them hiking, birding and wildlife watching.
A worthy model of nature-based tourism is found in a 940-acre preserve on the shores of Lake Buchanan in the Texas Hill Country owned by the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA). The preserve is located in a conservation and reclamation district about two hours west of Austin.
The preserve is home to the Canyon of the Eagles Lodge and Nature Park. The earth-toned building, an ecolodge, was designed to minimize any impact on the surrounding natural area. The main building was consciously designed with a low profile and the site lighting was kept purposefully low in order to protect the endangered species which inhabit the park. Among them are native residents, western bald eagles, which enjoy the park as their winter home.
The lodge and cabins intentionally blend in with the natural surroundings, while guestrooms purposely lack televisions and radios. Guests may fully enjoy the out-of-doors and the diverse offerings of the Environmental Learning Center at the nature park without the distraction of broadcast entertainments. There is a television in the common room as a concession for those who can’t quite quit cold turkey. The peaceful atmosphere transmits a feeling of seclusion amidst the abundant wild, with its rich birdlife, deer and creatures less familiar including the Armadillo.
Nature-based and natural recreation at the park includes hiking, swimming, canoeing, and kayaking. Hearty meals reward hungry hikers and others back in the friendly atmosphere of the restaurant.
To further augment the mission, educational opportunities at the popular Environmental Learning Center include lectures and demonstrations such as “Reptiles and Amphibians” and evening “Owl Prowls”. Interested visitors not only learn about, but witness firsthand creatures native to the area, their habitat and their way of life.
The Environmental Learning Center nurtures native sick birds back to health and rehabilitates birds of prey. In the Center’s eagle and falcons show these fascinating birds serve as “ambassadors” to introduce them to the public. Another thrill is learning to identify birds. During my visit I got acquainted with a Redtail hawk, various types of owls and a golden eagle. The Center’s goal is the eventual return to nature of rehabilitated wildlife.
Recently the Center released four eagles back to the wild, having been tagged so they can be tracked. The four had to fulfill three different prerequisites for release before they can be returned to their natural habitat: Fly with a leash, kill their own prey and socialize with other birds. The Center takes pride in their eagle research.
On Saturday evenings the Austin Astronomical Society presents a free program The moon and a variety of constellations zoom in to view with the aid of its two high-powered telescopes.
The park is also a popular launching site for the wonderful relaxing two-and-a-half hour “Vanishing Texas River Cruise.” Gliding gently through scenic wilderness on the historic Colorado River Canyon, you’ll take in imposing waterfalls, sheer cliffs and lots of wildlife and observe first hand wild turkeys, egrets, osprey and hawks.
Thirsty anyone? Fall Creek Vineyards on the shores of Lake Buchanan invite you to tour and enjoy “gemütlich” wine tasting. The area features similar terrain, soil and climate as that of the Burgundy region in France and they are similarly proud of the fruits of their labor.
The peaceful setting in this region of the Texas Hill Country and the joy of so many earth friendly recreational activities lures visitors here time and again. Perhaps you’re feeling the call of the wild already. Answer it.
For additional information, please contact:
*Canyon of the Eagles Lodge and Nature Park,
Lower Colorado River Authority LCRA,
P.O. Box 220, Austin, TX 78611;
Reservations toll-free: 1-800-776-5272, or 1-512-473-3200
*Shawn and Michelle Devancy, Owners,
Vanishing Texas River Cruise,
443 Waterway Lake, Burnet, TX 78611;
Tel. toll-free: 1-800-728-2831, or 1-612-253-2966
*Fall Creek Vineyards,
1820 County Road 222,