Bastrop State Park and its fabled Lost Pines area got a big boost this weekend on a quest to regain its lost beauty and ecological vitality, thanks to hundreds of Texas A&M University students who came to plant pine seedlings — thousands of them — under the watchful eyes of Texas A&M Forest Service (TFS) and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) personnel.
“Bring back the Lost Pines” was the theme of the day, and the Aggies quickly showed they are willing to do their part.
The student volunteers are being led by Aggie Replant, a Texas
A&M environmental organization formed more than two decades ago to
replace trees cut down when Aggie Bonfire was still conducted on campus.
The recognized student organization has continued its founding mission
even though Bonfire is no longer a sanctioned university activity.
The first contingent of about 800 Aggie volunteers arrived in a
four-bus caravan from College Station Saturday morning (Feb. 16), and
another group is scheduled to make the trip Sunday. Plans call for
repeating the two-day program next weekend (Feb. 23-24).
At the conclusion of the four sessions, Aggie Replant leaders
estimate the 6,600-acre park located some 30 miles southeast of Austin
will have about 30,000 new drought-hardy loblolly pines in its
horticultural inventory. The Aggies are planting the seedlings — which
are about eight inches tall – along Park Road 1C in what is called the
facility’s “historic scenic corridor.”
Tarek Abbassi, a senior biomedical engineering major from Houston and
one of the Aggie Replant leaders, said he welcomed the opportunity to
expand the organization’s service impact.
“Every year we bring trees to the Bryan/College Station area, but
I’ve always felt that Replant could and should do more for the
environment around Texas,” Abbassi said. “Replant’s involvement in the
Lost Pines Forest Recovery Campaign is important because it represents
the growth and change that Replant has made over the years.
“That is why I’m so happy that we were given this opportunity to help
out Bastrop State Park. Over the two weekends, we will get to
demonstrate our Aggie core values of leadership, excellence and selfless
service while helping the Bastrop community bounce back from the
wildfires of 2011.”
Another student, Jackie Brem, a sophomore, said she is a volunteer on
her first planting. “I’m a farm girl, so this is great,” observed the
chemical engineering major who, despite her farming heritage, claims
Waco as her home town.
After the Aggies received safety and planting instruction, they were
provided dibble bars to break through the hard-scrabble soil and a batch
of seedlings. Not too long afterwards, little wire-bound pink flags
started dotting the area, each signifying a newly planted
seedling—against a backdrop of hundreds of pines estimated to have been
at least 60 years old before being killed by the wildfire.
Texas A&M System Chancellor John Sharp, who was instrumental in
bringing the Texas A&M students, TFS and TPWD together to carry out
the newest Bastrop planting initiative, said that while other
universities can claim academics and research, Texas A&M’s
credentials include academics, research and service—and emphasized it’s
the latter that is personified by the volunteer working at the state
“I am so proud of these Aggie students who are here today to help
reforest the park,” Sharp added. He also had high praise for the TFS:
“The Texas Forest Service is the best in the country at what it does.”
Sharp was joined in kicking off the massive Aggie replanting by State
Senator Kirk Watson, Representative Tim Kleinschmidt, Bastrop County
Judge Paul Pape, Bastrop Mayor Terry Orr, TPWD Commissioner Bill Jones
and TFS Director Tom Boggus, among others.
Sen. Watson, whose District 14 includes the Bastrop area, joined in
expressing gratitude to the students. “For those of us who care so
deeply about this place, thank you,” he said, adding that, as a Baylor
graduate, it might be the first time he had ever thanked Aggies.
Rep. Kleinschmidt, a 1979 Texas A&M graduate who represents
District 17, which also includes Bastrop, called the volunteer work
“neighbors coming to help neighbors” and thanked his “fellow Aggies for
coming here and getting your hands dirty.”
Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Commissioner Bill Jones of
Austin, a 1981 Texas A&M graduate and former regent for the A&M
System, underscored that the park ”is sick,” adding, “it’s trying to
heal itself—and just needs a little help”—and he joined in thanking the
Aggies for their help.
Texas A&M Forest Service Director Tom Boggus said “it’s a great
day for Texas and Texans” and cited the overall private-public effort
being manifested in the effort to restore Bastrop State Park.
Aggie Replant is said to be the first student-led university
organization to participate in the Bastrop recovery campaign – certainly
on the scale being undertaken.
It was through a fortuitous series of circumstances that the Aggies
have the estimated 30,000 seedlings available for their planting
service. The seeds that produced the seedlings — 1,100 pounds of
drought-hardy loblolly pine seeds and 6,000 more of assorted varieties
of the same species — were part of a TFS tree improvement program begun
in 1951. However, demand for the seeds declined over the decades so the
surplus was stored in an industrial freezer at the Brookshire Brothers
Grocery in Lufkin.
They had been stored so long that in August of 2011, plans were in
the works to toss them into a landfill. That plan changed after the
Bastrop fire. Officials say the first priority for TFS was to germinate
and grow the seed into seedlings. Nursery partners – including state
facilities in Louisiana and Oklahoma, as well as the private seedling
nursery, ArborGen, in Bullard, Texas – were asked to grow-out the
Texas A&M Forest Service foresters are helping facilitate the
Aggie planting events and training the students on proper planting
technique, working alongside Bastrop State Park rangers.
The 2011 wildfire destroyed more than 1,600 homes and burned 32,400
acres, including 95 percent of the 75-year-old park, the heart of the
Lost Pines ecosystem and critical habitat for the endangered Houston
Texas A&M Forest Service, TPWD and the Arbor Day Foundation
launched the Lost Pines Forest Recovery Campaign last fall as a
public-private partnership to raise money to plant more than 4 million
trees. Since then, more than $2 million in donations has been raised to
aid Bastrop wildfire recovery. Tree plantings this season are being paid
for by the Apache Corporation, Friends of the Lost Pines, The Nobelity
Project and many other donors. Wildfire recovery replanting in the park
formally started in December.
The park has reopened with all campgrounds and cabins available–and almost all trails. See the Bastrop State Park web page at http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/state-parks/bastrop for complete visitor information and the latest on wildfire recovery.