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HIDDEN GEM: Brazos Bend State Park

The 5,000-acre park has a diverse wildlife population thanks to its variety of ecosystems.

NEEDVILLE, Texas — Before Houston grew into the fourth-largest city in the U.S., it was largely a collection of swamps, marshes, forests and prairies. You can see for yourself at a visit to this week’s Hidden Gem: Brazos Bend State Park, nearly 5,000 acres of sprawling wilderness in Needville.

"We’ve got all this different stuff out here and it’s all within one little, small spot," said Jessica Bullard, the park's volunteer services coordinator 

It may be small, but it has a big wildlife population, thanks to all those different ecosystems.

"We have bald eagles out here. We’ll have red-tailed hawks, red-shouldered hawks. We have alligators. We have river otters. We have deer,  raccoons," Bullard shared. "We have all kinds of different animals out here. On any given day, you can just be walking along on a trail and happen to see a snake slither by or a bird fly down and land somewhere."

The park is famous for its American alligator population. At any given time, there’s somewhere between 300 and 350 adult alligators here. You can look for them in observation decks or all along the trails. You can always track down a park ranger if you have any questions.

"Normally, it’s asking about the alligators," said Bullard. "Usually, 'How many people have been eaten out here?' Or 'How many attacks have you had?' And the answer is zero, absolutely none. We’ve been open since 1984 and we’ve had zero alligator attacks."

Still, if you’d prefer to steer clear of the large reptiles, Brazos Bend has more than 30 miles of trails you can hike, bike or ride horses on – plenty of them gator-free.

"There’s just so much to offer out here and there’s so many benefits to just coming out here that it’s almost immeasurable how many good things happen out here," Bullard said.

You can explore the history of Brazos Bend State Park at its Nature Center, which is where you'll find interpreter Jonathan Argo.

"It’s my job to sort of connect people with nature, such that they can understand it and feel a connection to it in a way that lets them feel like they can protect it and feel a part of it," he explained.

Sometimes that means actually feeling nature, such as a baby gator or snake.

"You can come out and you can relax and learn things, especially when it’s nice and cool out," said Argo. "You can sort of feel like you’re one with the area you live in and that’s important too."

If you want more than just a day trip, the park offers camping sites for tents and RVs or you can rent a cabin. That will give you more time to explore all that the park has to offer.

"Give it a shot. It only costs $7 per person to come into the park and there’s a lot of adventure to be had here, a lot of spaces to relax," Argo said. "If you don’t think you’re an outdoorsy person, maybe you haven’t been in the right place."

For more information about Brazos Bend State Park, click here.

Hidden Gems is sponsored by Dairy Queen.

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