BOLIVAR PENINUSULA, Texas -- One month away from the five-year anniversary of Hurricane Ike, the Bolivar Peninsula has rebounded with 40 square miles of mostly pastel new construction.
Meanwhile residents and summer visitors who long for the good old days of inexpensive fish camps and a patchwork of mobile homes are fighting to keep the peninsula affordable to everyone.
Oh it's paradise. That's what I like about it, said Candy Gilbert, seated on a bench in front of Cap n Jacks Bait and Tackle in Gilchrist next to Rollover Pass.
She and her business partners opened the business on the site of a former BBQ joint three years ago. Three bait and tackle shops have returned to Gilchrist since the hurricane destroyed every bait shop, cabin, and fish camp next to the pass and left only a few houses partially standing.
Change happens. You just have to keep looking forward, Gilbert said.
Down Highway 87 toward Crystal Beach, Bolivar is looking forward, mostly dressed in pastels 14 feet or more off the ground.
But I think the boom is here and Bolivar is back, said broker Anne Willis of Swede s Real Estate.
Willis lost nearly 300 rental properties during Hurricane Ike. A constant rebuilding effort in the years that followed has brought her inventory back up to 225.
More than 1,500 homes and other buildings have been constructed throughout the peninsula since Ike now far outnumbering the wooden skeletons that Ike left behind.
About 25 years ago I realized that I just love this place you know, Willis said. Then you just have to stick it out.
That's what architect Mike O'Neill did. His home in Caplen, like so many others on the peninsula, was reduced to wooden pilings and a massive hole in the ground.
It took 60 truckloads of dirt to fill in the hole, O Neill said.
Now a brand new house stands where the old one fell, and he is building a second house on his property next door.
He plans to use it as a vacation rental. O Neill is also an architect who said he has drawn at least 65 sets of blueprints for homes on the peninsula since the hurricane.
It's made a good comeback and we still got people wanting to come back, O Neill said.
O Neill also designed the peninsula s newest restaurant -- Steve s Landing, which recently opened in Crystal Beach.
But all is not perfect in Candy Gilbert's paradise. Real estate prices and property taxes skyrocketed after Ike.
Some fishermen we found casting a line for speckled trout at Rollover Pass fear that cost barrier, combined with the state proposal to fill in Rollover Pass to mitigate erosion, could make Bolivar accessible only to the people who can afford one of those big pastel homes.
I do have that fear if Jim Patterson [Texas General Land Office Commissioner] gets his way and closes this thing, but I'm hoping that won't be the case, said fisherman Allen Edwards.
Right here in Gilchrist over 50% sold out to the government so there aren't going to be that many people coming back, Gilbert said.
For the thousands who are coming back, Bolivar is a far cry from what it was five years ago.
And it's not the same Bolivar that it was, you know, it just can't be, Willis said. But I think it's bigger and it's better and it's probably here to stay a little longer.
Even in Gilchrist where they promise to keep fighting for Bolivar that is thriving and affordable for everyone.
Some people tell me well isn't that about a lost cause, Gilbert said. And I say where are you from? I thought we were southerners -- we believe in lost causes.