Padre Island
Administrative History
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Padre Island National Seashore remains the longest stretch of undeveloped and pristine seashore in the United States. It continues, however, to be challenged by internal and external threats. In recent years, the National Park Service examined threats and developed strategies for responding to their effects. National park units are now often described as "islands" or reserves surrounded by complex land uses or forces that put pressure on the park. These pressures may emanate from politics or economics but be nonetheless destructive to the protected resources. Padre Island managers, similar to most other park managers, often are forced to choose between alternatives that seem to compromise the dynamics of the barrier island or its "island" status. The following threats affect Padre Island National Seashore:

Internal Threat: Inadequate Budget

The most tenacious internal threat is the lack of an adequate budget for managing the National Seashore. From its earliest years of operation, Padre Island fell short in annual operating budgets that often were overshadowed by high acquisition and development expenditures. The strain is felt on personnel, but it also creates problems in the areas of development and maintenance. The severity of the South Texas's coastal climate and conditions creates undue stress for buildings and structures within the National Seashore. The stress is especially evident on the Gulf Ranger Station and Maintenance Complex left from the former Navy operations in the 1940s and the old Malaquite view tower. The former was originally intended as temporary buildings, while the latter remains closed to the public because of its structural problems, first noted in the 1970s. Without additional funding, park managers will not be able to improve on these facilities.

Internal Threat: Bird Island Basin Use Conflicts

Bird Island Basin lies roughly five miles from the northern boundary. It is the primary point of access for the public to the Laguna Madre. A second point of access is at Yarborough Pass, which requires a boat or through access from South Beach. Bird Island receives a large proportion of visitors to the National Seashore. In the fall and spring, visitor use may be quite heavy and result in different types of users. The two most prominent users in recent years are the power boaters and sailboarders. In the later 1980s and early 1990s, many users were often in conflict over use. Park officials became concerned about the conflicts and safety problems. This internal issue remained in the early 1990s although some decrease was noted by park managers. Questions concerning ways to accommodate large numbers of different users while still protecting the resources will continue in the near future and must be resolved largely through internal management strategies. [1]

Internal Threat: Visitor Degradation

Visitor use also remains a threat to the National Seashore. Vehicular and foot traffic in combination with beach camping cause dune and shore area erosion. Likewise, occupants of recreational vehicles sometimes illegally dump trash. These and related visitor activities require constant monitoring by park officials. In spite of concerted public education efforts, these violations continue. Visitors will continue to modify the natural resources of the park. [2]

External Threat: Adjacent Land Use

External threats continue to come from potential development on the edges of the National Seashore. One of the critical areas is north of the park boundary. This acreage remains in private ownership and is under the Kleberg County authority more than 130 miles away. [3] The western park boundary along the Intracoastal Waterway is difficult to discern and not inclusive of some natural features protected by the park. The ambiguous boundary causes management difficulties, especially for law enforcement. [4] Park Service officials still have not resolved the southern boundaries of the National Seashore. Two tracts of land continue under park ownership but are not contiguous to other park land. These tracts and the long-debated adjacent tracts occasionally are offered for potential development or exchange. In the early 1990s, American General Corporation proposed a 4,000 acre, $3,000,000 development on this property. [5] An organized effort by conservationists killed the proposal for the time being, but many expect similar projects to be suggested in the future. Although the park itself is well contained, external land use pressures in all three of these areas continue.

vehicles on beach
Figure 31. Bird Island Basin Visitor Use. Photo courtesy PAIS Archives [958].

External Threat: Causeway Construction

A related external threat is the proposed construction of a causeway across the Laguna Madre parallel to the Nueces and Kleberg county line. The causeway would reach Padre Island just north of the National Seashore entrance and doubtless lead to increased visitation. On the positive side, this proposal would lead to quicker evacuation during hurricanes and simplify access to the park through Kingsville. The negative aspects are the potential effects on the Laguna Madre resources and possible complications to mineral development. Although this proposal continues to receive serious consideration, widespread support does not appear evident. [6]

External Threat: Hazardous Containers

The influx of hazardous containers continues to be an external threat. Since the early 1980s when containers began to wash ashore, park managers addressed the container problem in a number of ways. The most successful arrangements were made with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and United States Coast Guard for funding and handling of the barrels. This program ended in the early 1990s leaving the Park Service to fund and disperse its own collected material. While the number of barrels collected can rise or fall each year, the threat to visitors remains the same and thus the park must continue to oversee collection and storage. This program is at times expensive and causes serious risk problems for park workers and visitors. [7]

External Threat: Law Enforcement Issues

Law enforcement issues resulting from larger external problems also threaten the National Seashore. Illegal aliens, illegal hunting, drug trafficking, and armed visitors potentially damage natural resources and jeopardize visitor safety. [8] Recent programs such as Drug Interdiction and agreements with area law enforcement departments have decreased the number of violators and reduced threats, but issues are still present. Because the National Seashore is located in South Texas near the Mexican border, many of these violations and threats will continue in the near future.

External Threat: Resource Degradation

Various operations conducted by other public or private interests continue to pose threats to the National Seashore. United States Corps of Engineers dredging and cleaning of the Intracoastal Waterway creates new resource problems in the Laguna Madre. In April 1994, contractors for the Army Corps of Engineers mishandled sludge or "spoil" from a dredging operation in the Laguna Madre and contaminated valuable fishery habitat. Unfortunately, Corps mishaps occur too often and result in an accumulation of harmful environmental effects. [9]

Non-Federal mineral extraction within the National Seashore also threatens resources. Although oil and gas operations now can proceed only with an approved plan, heavy equipment must be transported through visitor areas and in spite of precautions the potential still exists for spills. Other agencies, such as the Texas Parks and Wildlife and United States Customs, operate occasional helicopter beach patrols that distract from visitor experiences and daily park operations. [10]

External Threat: Mansfield Channel

One of the most insidious external threats to the park comes from the long-term effects of the Mansfield Channel dredging. The jetties constructed to prevent silt collection in the Channel are altering the dynamic processes of the island. These alterations over a period of time may result in different barrier formations and functions. Although the Channel is on the southern boundary, its effects may be quite dramatic for the National Seashore.

Park Strategies for Management of Threats

Park managers address internal and external threats through a variety of approaches. In recent years, a special planning team drafted the Development Concept Plan on an issue-by-issue basis rather than the large-scale development proposals in earlier park plans. The team made a concerted effort to enlist other federal, state, and local government staff and programs for each issue. The idea of managing the park as an isolated entity operating within its own boundaries was over. A host of partnerships, agreements, and joint programs facilitate park management. This approach continues at present.

The completion of the Development Concept Plan ushered in a new phase of management and direction for Padre Island National Seashore. Despite the inevitable changes in personnel and leadership, the National Seashore may now be the responsibility of all park employees, visitors, and stewards of our public resources. Whatever new forces befall Padre Island National Seashore in the future a more comprehensive program is there to meet them. This approach promises a great future for the land, its natural and cultural resources, and the ever-present enchanted visitor, as the island continues its dynamic presence along the Texas Gulf coast.

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Last Updated: 14-Jun-2005