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Altair Roadside Park to be closed

June 26, 2019 - 00:00
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    Citizen | Vince Leibowitz Stone and concrete picnic tables, constructed in the 1930s by the former Texas Highway Department, are shown at Altair Roadside Park on Monday. The park, slated for demolition by the Texas Department of Transportation as part of a statewide elimination of the small picnic areas along Texas roadways, was in overgrown condition this week, with knee-high weeds surrounding most of the park.

EDITOR's NOTE: This story has been updated at the end. 

ALTAIR—An iconic feature of the Colorado County landscape is soon to face the wrecking ball, having become a victim of changing times and changing habits.

The Altair Roadside Park, located on Texas 71 just north of the intersection of US 90 and Texas 71 in Altair, will soon be shuttered and all of its fixtures—including the iconic stone picnic tables—removed, said Lucea’n Kuykendall-Herring, public information officer for the Texas Department of Transportation’s Yoakum District Office.

The park, which is actually a Texas Department of Transportation roadside picnic area, will be closed, along with all such picnic areas across the state, due to the fact that they are "no longer being utilized for their original purpose," said Kuykendall-Herring.

The Altair Roadside Park was constructed sometime in the 1930s. Notices seeking bids for widening and paving of the stretch of Texas 71 north of Altair appeared in the February 26, 1931 edition of the Colorado County Citizen. About a year prior, a group of citizens from Rock Island had sued to stop the highway construction, claiming concerns about a potential lack of a bridge over the Colorado River at Altair as part of the construction plan.

The portion of Texas 71 north of the intersection of what is now US 90 and Texas 71 was still under construction in April of 1938 when the Texas Highway Department announced that it would allow construction of a paved road between Altair and Eagle Lake, to terminate at the same point. In the July 15, 1938, Weimar Mercury, it was announced that the widened portion of Texas 71 north of Altair would be ready to open in about 30 days.

The Altair Roadside Park has been a site for community events, school picnics, and family reunions for the better part of the last 70 years. Its first mention in connection with such activities was in September, 1938, when a meeting of the Garwood FFA, complete with a picnic supper and the election of Gerty Wanja as the 1939-1940 Garwood FFA Sweetheart, was conducted in the park, according to the September 23, 1938 Eagle Lake Headlight.

The Eagle Lake High School varsity Eagle football team had a ham barbecue at the park the same fall. Local newspapers list the site has having been home to everything from family reunions to elementary school picnics to birthday parties over the years. Through 2018, the Altair Roadside Park was the annual site of the Altair Juneteenth Celebration.

Kuykendall-Herring couldn’t provide a time-frame for when the Altair Roadside Park would meet the wrecking ball, only saying that some parks in nearby Fayette county had already been dismantled.

Although it is unknown exactly when the park was constructed, a Texas Department of Transportation report released in 2015 designed to provide background on the state’s roadside parks in anticipation of having at least a portion listed in the National Register of Historic Places, show the rock-and-concrete construction of small retaining walls and tables to be similar to those in Altair Roadside Park were constructed in other parts of the state between 1934 and 1938.

Most of the sites are less than two acres in size.

The county has a second roadside park, built sometime later, on US 90 going toward Eagle Lake. TxDOT was not immediately able to confirm the status of that park.

UPDATE, 10:40 a.m. June 26, 2019: 

After the newspaper's print deadline Tuesday, the Citizen was informed that the US 90 roadside park near Eagle Lake would not be closed, because it has been adopted by a local organization. Borden Lake Roadside Park is also not on the closure list, because it has been adopted by the Weimar Lions Club. 

The District Engineer for the Yoakum District confirmed Wednesday morning the Altair Roadside Park would be granted a brief reprieve from demolition so individuals and groups currently considering adopting the park through the department's Adopt a Highway program can prepare an application to do so.