GALVESTON — Fourteen years after Hurricane Ike’s devastating storm surge significantly damaged Galveston Island State Park, the property’s beach side has undergone a major overhaul. It reopened on Monday to the excitement of visitors and residents. A few campers and picnickers were out fishing and exploring the immaculate new facilities that afternoon.

“We just wanted to check,” said Royce Winkler, of Temple, who came from a nearby beach house with four of his grandchildren. “It is fabulous.”

The long-awaited moment served as a reminder of how long it can take for a community to recover after a hurricane hits – and how vulnerable the barrier island still is.

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Hurricane Ike hit Galveston Island in 2008. The Category 2 storm pushed a wave reaching 20 feet onto the neighboring Bolivar Peninsula to the east. Its force wiped out communities, with bodies found in the rubble. The park, which is split between a bay and a beach on the western end of Galveston Island, has not been spared.

The hurricane left buildings such as the headquarters torn like a hospital gown, said Tom Linton, former president of the Friends of Galveston Island State Park, a volunteer group that helps maintain and promote the state park. The damage was so severe that some predicted the park would be closed for seven years.

But local volunteer groups stepped up to help clean up after the storm, and the State Parks Department received federal funds and grants. The buildings were demolished; other temporary or inadequate facilities remained. Authorities managed to reopen much of the area in 2009, while larger-scale renovations were planned.

A vision for the redesign of the park, which was the basis for the new renovations, was completed in 2011. The designs were to be reviewed and more funding secured. Construction began in 2019. The beach side of the park remained closed for nearly three years, extended due to the coronavirus pandemic.

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Workers built 95 new campsites, two new bathrooms and a new park headquarters, according to a Texas Parks and Wildlife Department press release. There are also new changing rooms, a place for the horses and shaded shelters for daytime use.

This time around, the facilities are further away from the ocean to better protect them from flooding, Parks Department spokeswoman Stephanie Garcia wrote in an email. Structures are built to withstand 150 mph winds, electrical outlets sit four feet above the ground, and roads average eight feet above sea level.

“It’s been a long time coming, and I couldn’t be more excited for the public to fully experience the park again,” Kody Waters, acting superintendent of Galveston Island State Park, said in a prepared statement.

How to make park reservations: Reservations can be made online at or by calling 512-389-8900 on weekdays during business hours. Campsites can be booked as early as five months in advance and day passes 30 days in advance.

Galveston’s entire coastline, of course, remains vulnerable to storms such as Ike, and leaders continue to argue over how best to protect it. A version of the so-called Ike Dike Plan, considered after this storm, includes large dune systems that would be built on the western end of the island.

It’s under consideration in Congress.

Before renovations began, Galveston Park was one of the most visited state parks in Texas. Between 130,000 and 150,000 people visit the park each year, said Michael Woody, director of tourism for the Galveston Island park board. While the bay side of the park remained open during construction, officials said they expected park visitor numbers to begin to pick up.

The Parks Department announced last week the imminent opening of beachside facilities. Pat and Bill Cutchens, a married couple from League City, saw the opening advertised on Facebook and came down on Monday.

As soon as they got home, they knew what they were going to do: make reservations for the night.

“We’ve been waiting for this for a long time and we’re impressed,” said Pat Cutchens. “We can’t wait to come camping.”

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