How do you encompass 100 years of Texas State Parks’ history? That was the challenge state parks staff has spent the past year tackling.
The result? A wooden time capsule created by the Texas State Parks Exhibit Shop from pecan trees harvested at Mother Neff State Park, widely accepted as the first Texas State Park opened to the public.
The capsule, which houses one object from every state park and support program to commemorate the first century of Texas’ state parks system, goes on display April 20 at Mother Neff State Park and will then travel to a new state park every six months for the next 50 years.
“What an incredibly special moment in time to see the centennial time capsule begin its 50-year journey at Mother Neff State Park,” said Rodney Franklin, Director of Texas State Parks. “The time capsule and its contents not only tell the story of the 2024 version of Texas State Parks, but it also represents our message to those that will carry on the legacy of the mission-driven work of protecting our wild places and connecting their generation of Texans to the outdoors.”
The five-foot tall wooden time capsule weighs more than 300 pounds, is made from solid wood and bronze and is large enough to hold more than 100 items. Sitting atop the capsule is a sculpture in the shape of Texas with all park locations marked. Additionally, there are 100 name plates recognizing all contributing parks and programs, six regional bas relief panels and a message to the future plaque in the front.
“Time capsules are usually buried in the ground and forgotten until it’s time to open them, but ours will remain on display, so we wanted it to be a work of art and showcase the excellent craftsmanship of our exhibit team,” said Stephen Garrett, Exhibits Manager for Texas State Parks. “This is something totally unique and I don’t think anyone’s ever made a time capsule quite like this before. I’m proud of the thought, care and work that went into the capsule’s creation and hope park visitors enjoy seeing it as much as we did creating it.”
For the contents of the time capsule, park staff had to choose an item that would tell a story about that site, fit in a box the size of a coffee mug, survive 50 years and be strong enough to travel the roads of Texas.
“The heart of this project really are the special stories these items tell about each park and the thousands of dedicated people that care for them today,” said Robbie Merritt, member of the Time Capsule Planning Committee and Complex Superintendent of Ray Roberts Lake State Park. “We hope that through these stories, the park stewards 50 years from now will be able to better connect with us and this special moment in the history of Texas State Parks.”
Some final submissions and reasons why the park selected it for the time capsule include:
• An adobe ball from Fort Leaton State Historic Site: “This is a simple piece of the larger whole that is Fort Leaton, and it was crafted from the landscape around the fort by our staff just as adobe has been made since the fort’s start in 1848 … this humble ball reflects the history of this structure and ties back into the geology of the landscape of the Big Bend and Far West Texas.”
• A message in a bottle from Mustang Island State Park: “On occasion our staff will find a message in a bottle, sometimes we are able to track where the bottle originated and sometimes even communicate with the sender. The tradition of placing a message in a bottle and casting it into the ocean for someone to find is enchanting and we felt that this time capsule offered us that same opportunity for the next generations of park stewards.”
• A railroad tie and taxidermy Mexican Free-tailed bat from Old Tunnel State Park: “The railroad tie was taken from the rail line scrap materials that were removed when the train was decommissioned in 1941. Prior to the railroad, people had to use a horse and cart for travel, which could take days to reach San Antonio. The bat specimen represents the bats that live here. These bats are important to agriculture in the area because they consume thousands of corn earworm/cotton bollworm moths, which cause damage to corn and cotton crops. The three million bats at Old Tunnel can consume 120 million moths each night.”
• Group hall doorknob from Martin Dies Jr. State Park (MDJSP): “This doorknob from the Group Hall represents a new beginning for this facility and for this park … The Group Hall functioned as a meeting place for visitors for many years; concessions and bait were sold here, and people gathered to enjoy the park. MDJSP was entrusted with money dedicated to creating educational exhibits; park leadership saw this as the perfect opportunity to ‘close the doors’ on the Group Hall, and ‘open the doors’ to a new Discovery Center.”
• Sinclair Tyrannosaurus Rex Dinosaur Model (“Rex”) tooth from Dinosaur Valley State Park: “At a surface level, this is a concrete tooth from the mouth of our Sinclair T-Rex model. But its meaning runs so much deeper than that. It represents the earliest prehistory of this landscape, when dinosaurs like Acrocanthosaurus left their tracks in a muddy seashore. It represents the folks of Lanham Mill, whose homesteads became the park and all the work done for the last 50 years to make DVSP what it is today. Most of all, it represents the wonder we feel at the grandeur of nature and the hope we have that Dinosaur Valley will be here so all people can experience that same feeling for all time.”
• “Spidey Cents” from Lake Tawakoni State Park: “The choice to cast various spiders found at the park in resin, accompanied by pennies from the opening year in 2002 and the present year 2023, is a symbolic representation of the park’s history and its dynamic relationship with nature. The communal spider web phenomenon of 2007 was a natural spectacle, where thousands of spiders created a living piece of art draping the trees. By encapsulating this moment in resin alongside markers of time, our object captures the essence of the park — a place where nature and history converge.”