Mother Neff State Park is ready to show off her new makeover.
The park is holding a grand reopening this weekend to reveal $6.5 million in park improvements, including a new limestone headquarters and visitors center as well as a new campsite loop and restroom area for visitors.
Park entrance fees will be waived for the two-day celebration, which kicks off with a welcoming ceremony Friday. The park also will offer multiple activities for a Family Fun Day on Saturday, such as a bird feeder-building station, a cow-milking demonstration, teepee construction lessons and a scavenger hunt using the GPS systems on smartphones.
The renovations relocated the park’s core functions away from the banks of the Leon River to higher ground — prairie land on Mother Neff’s northern end.
“It’s going to improve the park in multiple ways,” Park Ranger Jeremy Gann said of the new facilities. “It’s going to get people to come here and get a history lesson about the state parks system. We have plenty of room for education, for outreach programs, but also it’s going to get us to grow as a park with attendance.
“It’s going to improve the overall park experience.”
Flooding along the river frequently limited access to the original camping sites. The park was closed for about a year after heavy rains during the summer of 2007 left much of the campground area under water for three months and forced staff to work from a 20-by-40-foot temporary building for the past seven years.
“With this new headquarters and new campgrounds, we’re able to get away from the river so that if it ever does flood, we’ll still be able to function as a park,” Gann said.
The project was first approved in 2009, but construction did not begin until 2013 because of a lack of state funding.
The new facilities were designed to mirror the limestone rock exterior of original structures like Mother Neff’s historic rock tabernacle and recreation hall. Those facilities were constructed in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps, which developed 32 state parks as part of the New Deal programs during the Great Depression.
The new camping loop was built near the original mess hall and barracks of the CCC workers, with some of the campsites abutting the slabs that supported those buildings. The loop features 20 campsites that are large enough to accommodate RVs and are equipped with electrical, water and sewage hookups.
Gann said the original campsites near the Leon River will be converted to picnic-only spaces for daytime use, while the new section will be for overnight campers. The new campsites will first be available for use by the public Feb. 1, he said.
The 3,800-square-foot headquarters pays tribute to the conservation corps as part of a new interactive exhibit and multimedia room. Visitors can view videos, photos and other historical displays about the CCC’s contributions to the state parks system, plus review history about Mother Neff. The park was founded by Gov. Pat Neff and named in honor of his mother, Isabella Eleanor, whose six-acre parcel of land made up the original park site.
Gann said the headquarters were designed with some green conservation features, such as rainwater harvesting barrels to reduce water usage. The east and west walls of the building feature floor-to-ceiling windows designed to cut down on indoor lighting usage and assist in naturally heating the space during winter months.
The park has completed other projects to attract visitors, including a $1.3 million road improvement project in 2013 to repair and resurface access roads.
Mother Neff acquired about 142 acres of neighboring Coryell County land in 2012, which grew its overall size to 401 acres and will add another four miles of hiking trails.
The renovation is just Phase 1 of planned improvements at the park. Future projects include renovating the rock tabernacle and recreation hall, building cabins and adding a campfire theater to the grounds as funding becomes available.
“Mother Neff State Park is an extremely important park because of its history and the fact that it has served a pretty large population in the Waco-Temple area for more than 100 years,” said Rob McCorkle, spokesman for Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. “People have been using that area even before it became a state park . . . it’s held in very high esteem.”