Sand Castle Trail on South Padre Island



There’s something new at South Padre Island. Visitors and residents can travel the island and discover about 30 different sand castles on display.

Some of them are very big and others are not so big. They’re all different and easy to find along the sand castle trail.

“The sand castle trail gives people visiting the island the opportunity to see our brand of local art,” South Padre Island City Manager Bill Dilibero said.

The sand castles can be found in front of various businesses, and a map is available to show the exact locations of the art.

Lucinda Wierenga is a world class master sand sculptor. Everyone knows her by her nickname Sandy Feet.

She has been building sand sculptures on the beach for over 30 years. “It was a team effort between the city and private businesses,” she said. “This was a fantasy that I’ve long had, building sand sculptures all over South Padre Island. So everybody that comes to the island, no matter what time of year it is, will be able to see amazing sand sculptures.”

Part of the fun of exploring the trail is looking for those hidden details in the sculptures.

“The one at the Paragraphs bookstore has scenes from seven or eight different books,” Wierenga said.

Some of the sand sculptures were damaged, during the never ending rains of May and June. However, they will be touched up. After all, this is a job where they get to play in the sand all day.

“Most recently, I did a big project in Kuwait for six weeks with about 70 other sculptors. I’ll be going to the American championship in Fort Myers Beach in November. And of course, we have sand castle days coming up here in October,” Wierenga said.

“The thing is to take the time to look at them and enjoy the unique art that we have on the island,” Dilibero said.

There is a free app people can download to check out the sand castle trail. Maps for the trail are available at the visitor’s center or most businesses.

“Oh man, I could not have asked for a better life. I feel so fortunate,” Wierenga said. “You know the sand here on South Padre Island is so good for sand castle building. We are truly blessed.”

Home Prices and Sales Up in the Rio Grande Valley

Home in Laguna Vista, TX. 

Home in Laguna Vista, TX. 


Home prices and sales have gone up over the past year across the Rio Grande Valley.

The median price for a single family home in the McAllen-Edinburg-Mission metro area is $122,500. That’s a 3.8 percent jump compared to 2014 prices, according to the second quarter Texas Housing Report compiled by the Texas Association of Realtors and Texas A&M Real Estate Center, which came out this week.

The median price for a single family home the Brownsville-Harlingen metro area is $123,000 — a 6 percent increase since last year during the second quarter.

Across Texas, home sales have increased 4.7 percent overall and median home prices went up 8.1 percent to $200,000.

Cameron County also saw home sales jump 7.1 percent in 2015 while in Hidalgo County, those sales grew only 4 percent since last year.

But there were fewer physical houses sold in the Brownsville-Harlingen market overall — only 577 compared to 697 in McAllen-Edinburg-Mission real estate market.

As a veteran, Romero is eligible for the GI bill, which helps pay for a university education and offers a direct path for home ownership.

“Many new home buyers are in a transition for relocation or they changed jobs and got a raise and are looking to increase,” said Miki McCarthy, an agent with Cadence Real Estate in McAllen.

While the housing market in Cameron County saw a greater percentage increase, that doesn’t mean the Hidalgo County market is falling behind.

“Each one is a reflection of its own market and not in comparison to the other market,” said Mickey Furcron, president of the Brownsville-South Padre Island Board of Realtors about the report. “We’ve got some great weather here, the beach attraction, SpaceX coming into Brownsville and the port has some LNG companies interested.”

Overall though, the biggest challenge is lack of new homes on the marketplace.

“We don’t have enough new home construction going on in Texas to meet the demand and that’s part of financing too, because a developer needs a lot of credit and that’s been sluggish for the past five years,” he said.

In a quick search for available homes in the $115,000 to $125,000 price range within city limits there were only 31 that popped up on Tuesday, he said.

Hidalgo County real estate agents concurred with that assessment.

“All real estate is a local market, there is no national real estate market,” said Lee Jinks, executive director for the Greater McAllen Association of Realtors. Home sales tend to pick up from January to April then climb to a peak in August — right before school starts again — then tapers off, he said.

In Brownsville-Harlingen during the second quarter of 2015 there are 11.5 months of housing stock before the market would sell out, down from 13.4 months during 2014.

Some builders are skittish to invest in Brownsville because of the high price tag for impact fees levied by the Brownsville public utility board, Jinks said. The current impact fee for the smallest meter is $2,600 for water and wastewater, according to the agency’s website.

In the McAllen-Edinburg-Mission metro area there is about 10.6 months worth of inventory, down from 11 months from last year during the same quarter.

In May, out of 236 residential home sales, there were six homes sold for $30,000 and below, 34 that sold between $120,000 and $140,000, and 24 sales for houses with prices between $140,000 and $160,000.

Only 22 homes sold for the $160,000 to $180,000 price range and two sold for more than $400,000, but that’s a very small snapshot, he said.

“This may be one of the best markets we’ve seen in Hidalgo County,” Jinks said. “I think it’s just a matter of the market bouncing back.”

Learn About Sea Turtles, Birds and Fish on Eco-Trip to South Padre Island

A sea turtle rehabilitating at Sea Turtle Inc.

A sea turtle rehabilitating at Sea Turtle Inc.


I feel like I'm planting a beach-side garden.

The white, ping-pong-ball-shaped orbs I'm placing in a hole in the sand aren't flower bulbs, though. They're sea turtle eggs, laid just a few hours ago.

"You're holding the eggs of one of the rarest reptiles on earth," says Jeff George, executive director of Sea Turtle Inc., a nonprofit organization on South Padre Island that rescues injured sea turtles and works to protect the endangered creatures.

Kemp's Ridley turtles lay their eggs here between April and August, and crews from Sea Turtle Inc. set out on foot and all-terrain vehicles to look for nesting mothers. They spotted one this morning, and when she headed back out to sea, they dug up her 98 eggs and loaded them gently into a Styrofoam ice chest. At Sea Turtle Inc. headquarters, the eggs were counted and recorded.

Now, we're burying them inside a protected corral on the beach, where 30 other egg clusters have been carefully transplanted away from the prying teeth of the island's resident badgers and coyotes. An estimated one in 300 will make it to adulthood.

It's just one highlight of an eco-themed trip to South Padre Island, where you can also explore a birding center, take an ecotour boat ride or learn about the impact of pollution at a marine research lab. And, in between all that, you can play in the waves, build a sand castle, fly high over the water on a parasail, watch the sailboats and windsurfers and dine on local seafood.

For a vacation that's more about nature and the environment than bikinis and beer, hit up these spots.

1 . Sea Turtle Inc.

Ila Loetscher, the Turtle Lady of South Padre Island, started taking in sick and injured sea turtles in 1977. She also decked them out in costume, but we'll forgive her because she launched a movement that over the years has saved hundreds of turtles. Loetscher is gone, but the center carries on her mission of rehabilitation, conservation and public education. The star resident is Allison, who lost three flippers in a predator attack as a baby. You can watch her zip around her tank with the help of a prosthetic rudder.

You can also learn about the broader plight the Kemp's Ridley turtles face. In 1947, researchers found about 40,000 nests on a beach in Mexico, their primary nesting ground. Poachers decimated the population, and by 1985, fewer than 500 female sea turtles remained. Thanks in part to an agreement between Mexico and the United States, the nesting grounds were protected and the population rebounded - until recently, when numbers dropped again. Experts are unsure whether the downtick is related to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 or other factors, like cold snaps that "stun" the animals, making them prone to passing boat props.

The takeaway message? "Be good to the environment, don't trash the beach, look out for turtles and let us know if you see one," says Kat Lillie, assistant curator.

And, if you feel like it, help foot the bill for the center's upcoming $5.2-million expansion, which calls for a face-lift of the existing facility, a new boardwalk over the lagoon, an education center, veterinary clinic, amphitheater, displays and tanks for permanent turtle residents.

Vitals: Open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. 6617 Padre Blvd., 956-761-4511; Suggested donation of $4 adults, $3 seniors and $2 children.

2. South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center

Walk more than half a mile along a boardwalk over the wetlands, watching ducks fledge, fish spawn, butterflies flutter by and exotic-looking birds make an appearance. Then climb the five-story observation tower for a birds-eye view of the bay.

Vitals: Open 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily. 6801 Padre Blvd., 956-761-6801; Admission $5 adults, $4 seniors, $2 children ages 4 to 12.

3. Breakaway Cruises

Board the Getaway at Sea Ranch Marina and head out to the bay, where the crew drags a net behind the boat. The booty during our trip included a squid, a small butterfly ray, an annoyed-looking blue crab, a trio of starfish, a flounder and a fist-size, slimy-looking sea slug called a Spanish dancer.

Oh, and the dolphins. We saw so many and they came so close a friend accidentally tossed her cellphone overboard. (Don't do that.) In all, about 200 dolphins call this bay home. "We've got a very healthy ecosystem," says deck hand William Zavala. "That's why the dolphins stick around."

Vitals: Eco-tours at 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. daily. 33384 State Park Road 100 (Padre Blvd.), 956-761-2212; Cost is $18 for adults, $16 for children.

4. Coastal Studies Laboratory

At the southern tip of the island, don't miss the humble Coastal Studies Laboratory, part of the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley. You can peer into a bank of aquariums holding native fish and invertebrates, or inspect a huge whale skull. The lab serves as headquarters for the Marine Mammal Stranding Network. Researchers here whirl into action when critters wash ashore. They also educate the public about keeping beaches clean and healthy.

"We've got a problem with people leaving trash on the beach," says Brigette Goza, senior program coordinator. "We educate the public about how marine life is harmed by that."

Vitals: Open 1:30-4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. 100 Marine Lab Drive, 956-761-2644; Admission is free.

5. Coconuts Water Sports

When your brain is packed, take to the skies for an overview of the island from a parasail. Several companies offer rides, including Coconuts Water Sports. Passengers strap on harnesses and are slowly reeled up, up and away from the boat. From what seems like outer space, they can peer down on the island and boats far below.

Vitals: Open 10 a.m.-6 p.m. daily. 2301 Laguna Blvd., 956-761-4218; Cost is $75 per person.

What's the Big Deal with Rio Grande Valley Native Plants?



Native plants and wildlife have been here a long time in the Rio Grande Valley. Like people here, the native plants and wildlife tend to be hardy, good looking, well-adapted to life in the Valley and able to take care of themselves.

Our native plants and animals lived here for thousands of years before people arrived. Native plants found ways to grow in all our soils — from the heaviest clay to sand — and have adapted to the huge variations in climate here.

Some animals fed on native plants and were important parts of the food chain for other animals. Animals naturally distributed plant seeds, creating plant colonies throughout the Valley. Most importantly, our native plants and animals were successful without any help from people!

As people settled permanently in our area they turned much of it into ranches, farms, groves, cities and suburbs. Native plants lost places to grow and native animals lost food from plants and places to live among them.

Remember the part about plants and animals succeeding here on their own? They still can. All native plants need is a place to grow. So plant some in your yard or spread seeds along a fencerow or in a pasture. Encourage natives — let them grow and then re-grow year after year. Any space can become a piece of native habitat.

Native plants are no fuss, no hassle plants! They are naturally resistant to most plant pests and diseases, and seldom need fertilizer. They get by with whatever rain that falls. You don’t need to be an expert gardener to help out nature with natives.

Where there is plant habitat and a water supply, animals will come to them. A small space in town might attract birds and butterflies, as well as lizards, raccoons and opossums. A larger area of native habitat outside town can be home to the full range of native plants and animals.

Unsure how to get started? Visit any one of our many local parks and talk with staff or park guides or

Editor’s note:  The Rio Grande Valley Chapter Texas Master Naturalist develops knowledgeable volunteers dedicated to the study and conservation of natural resources and natural areas in the lower Rio Grande Valley.  They help the natural world through service, outreach and education.

Vacation Home Sales Surge as Buyers Seek Fun and a Good Investment



Sales of vacation home sales are surging across the nation as Americans seek out their own place for a family retreat, a regular vacation spot or a place to ski, sail, fish or hike.

Vacation home sales were up a whopping 57 percent in 2014 over the sales of 2013, according to a national report by the National Association of Realtors.

“Vacation home sales are skyrocketing,” says Dallas-based journalist Candy Evans, a CultureMap contributor and founder of and “Vacation home sales have shown astounding growth. I get 50 emails a day from developers with new projects that are coming up.”

Evans, who moderated a vacation homes panel in Miami at the National Association of Real Estate Editors Conference, says the surge is driven by “The One Percent” – affluent households who have done well in the stock market in recent years.

“The wealthy got even wealthier since the recession of 2008,” says John Klemish, broker in-charge at the upscale Greenbrier Sporting Club resort in West Virginia.

The buyers at the ultra-luxe Greenbrier often pay all cash and the typical buyer there has at least three or four other houses, says Klemish.

The massive Baby Boomer generation is supporting the surge in the vacation home market as they acquire vacation homes now and plan to convert them to their primary residences after retiring.

The top choice for vacation home buyers is the beach, according to the National Association of Realtors Vacation Home Buyers Survey.

Last year, 40 percent of vacation buyers purchased in a beach area, 19 percent purchased in the country and 17 percent purchased a vacation home in the mountains. The average buyer purchases a vacation home that is 200 miles away from his/her primary residence.

Foreign buyers are also supporting the vacation home boom. Owning real estate in a country with a stable economy can be an appealing haven to affluent people from other parts of the world.

“We’ve seen a huge desire for real estate from flight capital,” says Phillip Day, an executive with the IMI vacation realty company in Greenville, S.C. “We see a lot of people from Europe and South America.”

The ability to get rental income by renting out a vacation home is attractive, says Jon Gray, chief revenue officer at Austin-based HomeAway, an online marketplace that connects renters with vacation home owners.

The owner of a vacation home gains $28,000 a year, on average, by renting out their vacation home, Gray says.  Many vacation home buyers can cover half, or even three-fourths of their mortgage payments with rental income, says Gray, a panelist at last week’s NAREE conference.

Orlando Realtor Chris Cain, author of  “Your Made in the USA Vacation Home” says the investment aspect of vacation home buying is huge.  And it is appealing to a cross-section of buyers, not just the ultra-rich.

“If your primary residence is the best investment of your life,” says Cain, “why not buy a vacation home, too?”

Not Just for Spring Break: South Padre Island a Great Family Getaway


South Padre Island off the tip of Texas is not a good vacation destination in March and the first half of April. Unless, of course, you are a college student. In that case, South Padre Island is the place to be.

For decades, the small barrier island, flanked on the west by Laguna Madre Bay and to the east by the Gulf of Mexico, has had a reputation as a wild spring break fling for young adults seeking beach time, booze and booty.

But the other 46 weeks of the year, South Padre Island is a great getaway for couples, families and groups of friends.

The call of the ocean is particularly strong for landlocked Coloradans because when you live in the mountains, the sea seems like a natural place to leave reality behind.

My family has visited several times, with and without children, and every time we leave, we start thinking about when we can go back.

The island unofficially boasts some of the most pristine beaches around.

White sand that's light and powdery lies within feet of the long string of condos and hotels lining the 34-mile seashore.

Up and down the shoreline are plenty of places to rent an umbrella and chairs and make a day of hanging out in the subtropical climate.

The island has one of the few sandcastle trails in the nation, with amazing creations scattered around town. Sandcastle-building lessons also are available - TripAdvisor's No. 1-ranked outdoor activity on the island.

Fairly clear, warm water with two sandbars enable beachgoers to walk pretty far from the shore and still be able to stand up.

While the surf is usually calm, surf boarders and kite boarders can post successful rides.

Fresh water also appeals to visitors. Schlitterbahn Beach Resort is the island's top tourist attraction, according to Adrian Rodriguez, spokesman and film commissioner for the South Padre Island Convention Centre. The giant water park has outdoor and indoor equipment, including inland surfing, uphill water coasters, lots of slides and other slippery fun.

My kids loved it. Adults should be prepared for crowds.

Tourists also can get their fill of the sea from atop the waves. Anglers can fish year-round from the bay side, on charter boats, kayaks or from the pier or shore. Many local restaurants will cook your catch your way. The varieties cast a large net - redfish, pompano, speckled trout, whiting, red drum, snook, mangrove snapper and others - depending on the time of year.

Boats also offer eco-tours, dolphin watches, sunset serenades, pirate-themed excursions and float parties. The dolphin-watch trips are worth the time and money. Certain areas seem to guarantee a sighting.

We've also spotted dolphins while driving across the 2.3-mile Queen Isabella Causeway, the sole roadway connecting the mainland to the island. But it's much more fun and better viewing on a boat tour.

South Padre Island is named for a Catholic priest who established a church in the mid-1700s and brought the first permanent settlers. In recent history, the island has purposefully been built as a resort. In fact, it's in the city charter, Rodriguez said.

About 3,000 residents live there year-round, many working in industries that cater to upwards of 1 million visitors each year.

Tourists like the island because, "It's fun for all ages," Rodriguez said. "Depending on what stage you are in life, there's something to be found for you on South Padre Island."

In addition to Schlitterbahn, our kids had a good time at Gravity Park, which has go-carts and a bungee ride; the Sea Turtle Inc. rescue with all kinds of salvaged sea life; and the Birding and Nature Center, which in addition to being a haven for feathered creatures has an alligator and crabs in a natural, sanctuary environment.

South Padre Island is known as the "Fireworks Capital of Texas," with fireworks displays every Thursday and Friday in the summer from the bay side and Friday and Saturday nights on Gulf's beach side.

There's also a wide selection of nightlife for adults with live music and that laid-back tropical party atmosphere.

Summertime brings special events, such as fishing tournaments, a catamaran race and hula dancer shows.

We always return to our favorite restaurants. Louie's Backyard, across from Gravity Park, has bay side waterfront seating, a delicious seafood buffet, hand-cut steaks and a deck bar with bands.

Dirty Al's is another required stop for our family. From oysters on the half shell and boiled peel-and-eat shrimp to blackened fish tacos and po'boys, the food is consistently good. We weren't brave enough to try the fish throats but heard they were tasty.

Our No. 1 breakfast place is the Grapevine Café, on the main thoroughfare, because it has American and Mexican dishes, such as Migas Mexicanas: scrambled eggs, corn tortilla strips, tomato, onion, jalapeno and cheese.

Visitors who travel by plane must fly into Harlingen or Brownsville, Texas, and drive to South Padre Island. But before crossing the Causeway, stop in Port Isabel, for some shopping and Pirate's Pier, the state's longest pier. There's a lighthouse, several restaurants with the best Gulf coconut shrimp and fried chicken and fishing with rental poles, tackle and bait.

Brownsville, about 45 minutes from South Padre Island, is on the Mexico border and a day-trip option.

"Everybody comes to South Padre Island for their needs," Rodriguez said. "Whether you want to curl up on the beach and read a book, get married or have a divorce party, we have it all."

SPI one of "The 20 Coolest Beach Towns in America"

South Padre Island Real Estate

Business Insider has selected South Padre Island as on of "The 20 Coolest Beach Towns in America."

Wind-surfing, fishing, kayaking, horse-back riding, paddle-boarding- you name it. No beach activity is left behind in this Texas gulf coast town that also throws a raucous spring break.
Drinks: Louie’s BackyardTequila Sunset for live music and a sunset view.
Eats: A late breakfast at Manuel’s in Port Isabel (no need for lunch, that way). Or, head to Boomerang’s for a small lunch. Grill lobster tails and shrimp from Dirty Al’s for dinner.
Coffee:  The Grape Vine Cafe
Other things to do: Explore the Padre Island National Seashore on an ecological tour. Go horse-back riding on the beach. Catch the Texas International Fishing Tournament which draws crowds each year.

Full article HERE.