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Padre Island National Seashore

The Padre Island National Seashore constitutes the longest stretch of undeveloped beach left in the world. These 70 miles of white sand beaches and grassy dunes form a complex and important ecosystem and are home to countless species of plants and animals, both marine and terrestrial, many of which are threatened or endangered. Even some of its environments are endangered. The Laguna Madre, for example, is one of the few remaining hyper saline lagoon environments in existence. As a stop along the Central Flyway it is also globally important to more that 350 species of migratory, over-wintering and resident birds. The most famous sometimes residents of the island are 5 of the 7 species of sea-turtles left in the world. All five are either threatened or endangered, and the Kemp’s Ridley Sea-Turtle is in the most precarious position. The conservation and breeding programs on Padre Island have begun to show some tentative signs of success, but the turtles future, like so many of the rare life forms found on or near Padre Island, remains in doubt.

Visitors to the island have many opportunities to see its wildlife, and may even witness newly hatched turtles being released into the wild. Bird watching is particularly good on Padre Island, of course, and the relative lack of light pollution makes stargazing a joy as well. There are campsites near the entrance to the park as well as RV sites, though the latter are not provided with hook-ups. There is a Visitors Center near the entrance as well and a small grocery store a few miles south. Camping on the open beach is free with a permit. Pets are allowed on most of the island, provided they are leashed at all times.

Don’t confuse Padre Island with South Padre Island, the overdeveloped resort destination for the bulk of Texas spring-break crowd. Hotels will be booked solid through March and full of partying college students. Hikers on Padre Island should have sunscreen, insect repellent and plenty of water. Recent acts of Congress have resulted in drilling on Padre Island National Seashore for natural gas and other mineral resources. Strict guidelines are in place to insure the most minimal impact on the environment as is possible, but the long-term results remain to be seen.