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Energy & Environment

McKinney Falls State Park Offers Refuge – And Distraction – For Harvey Evacuees

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon
De Ding and his daughter, Kimmy, walk along the banks of Onion Creek. Ding and his family lived near the Barker Reservoir in Houston.

Standing on the bank of Onion Creek at McKinney Falls State Park, De Ding watches his wife and two kids splash in the water.

“I’ve seen enough water,” he chuckles. But, it's better than the water he was dealing with Houston, he says.

Ding and his family live near the Barker Reservoir, where releases from the teeming reservoir flooded nearby homes and forced evacuations.

Now, they're are among the nearly 8,000 Texans who have taken refuge in state parks since Hurricane Harvey left towns across the state flooded and demolished.

Scenes From Hurricane Harvey

Ding says his house stayed dry, so he helped others – sometimes wading through chest-high water. The family would get antsy cause he was out of the house, leaving at around 7 a.m. and not returning until around 9 p.m. 

"My wife was worried, wondering where I am," Ding says.

So, last weekend his wife took the kids to the park here to escape the turmoil. Ding had just joined them on Tuesday at the Southeast Austin park.

“At least I want to enjoy [the park] with the kids because they're out of school for two weeks,” he says.

The Ding family is staying in one of the cabins that the park has set up for evacuees, but walking the park, it seems most people are in campers or RVs. When they were ordered to evacuate, some of them literally just got in their vehicles and moved everything they could to the park.

“This thing's brand new,” says Bryan Garcia, pointing to his camper. “We happened to get it, like, a month before this happened, luckily.”

Garcia and his girlfriend are from Port Aransas, where they lived in a condo and ran an ice cream shop, Port A Ice Cream. Both were lost in the hurricane.

He says the camper has been a blessing. It allowed them to move most of their stuff out of their condo before Harvey hit. But, it also poses a challenge; namely, where to park it – a problem that's been solved by the park's open spaces. There are no places to park in Port Aransas, he says.

Now, they’re trying to figure out the next step. They thought maybe they’d open a shop in Austin, then they saw the rent.

“We were paying $500 a month for a spot. Over here, it’s like 2,500 to 3,000 a month,” Garcia says. "I don’t think you can make that in ice cream money."

Credit Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon / KUT
Stephen M. Meyer fled Angleton after Harvey and was directed to McKinney State Falls. He's been taking trips into Austin and says he's considering moving here.

Stephen M. Meyer has spent years working in refineries in the Angleton and Houston area. He took a wrong turn while escaping the flooding with his pet dog, Peck, and was directed to the park by a gas station employee in Bastrop.

So, he decided to pitch a tent.

“He’s never been camping before at all in 12 years. I've never done anything like this,” Meyer said, gesturing to Peck. “So, you’ll have an armadillo walk through or an raccoon walk out of the woods, and he totally wigs out. He’s just like, 'Oh my God, it’s my best friend!’ and the critter's looking at him like, 'Really?'"

Meyer has been visiting Austin during the day and he likes what he sees. He plans to head back to Angleton to gather the rest of his stuff and then return to the park while he looks for work in the city.

Texas Parks and Wildlife Department says 7,759 evacuees have stayed in parks so far, with around 700 evacuees currently staying in parks statewide. Evacuees can stay for free at least until the end of the month.

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