Friday, May 27, 2016

Summer Fun on a Shoestring Budget

The projected high for today is 91 degrees, which means the summer is upon us.  Or, it's simply an average day here in our border city of Brownsville, Texas.  As we are given a plethora of summer camp options in which to enroll our children, it is easy to overlook the variety of affordable, family-friendly excursions our tropical paradise offers.  Here are some local favorites, in the order of free to worth the long-term investment.

A visit to a local school at the end of the academic year will reveal that we live in a culture that practically worships our children, and we are a fruitful people.  Whether pupils are celebrating the end of their high school or preschool careers, balloons, baskets, stuffed animals and candy galore dominate awards ceremonies.  This works in our favor, as our city works hard to ensure that there are plenty of child friendly destinations.  With many parks to choose from in our area, here are three of the most frequented ones:

The lovely waterfall at Cascade Park.
Surrounded by nice walking trails, Cascade Park is the most recent development to grace us with its presence.  Fully equipped with a couple of playgrounds, a splash pad, plenty of picnic tables, bridges, and yes, a beautiful waterfall that lights up at night, it is a sure summer destination.

Residents are welcome to ride bikes, exercise and even fish from the bridges.  Birthday parties can also be scheduled if the park is contacted ahead of time.  For more information call (956) 838-0162.

Dean Porter Park is located at 501 Ringgold Street.
Located in the center of the Mitte Cultural District, Dean Porter Park is one of Brownsville's largest and most historic community areas.  There is a walk and fitness trail that lines the outdoor recreation destination, and it sits adjacent to a lovely resaca.

With great picnic areas, expansive playgrounds, and easy access to Sam's Pool (which is home to free lap swimming summer mornings) and splash pad, it is a welcome respite from the intense heat.  For more details on the park and surrounding areas, check out their website.

The Pirate Ship Park is located at 1 Event Center.
The city now has 64 miles of bike trails, granting Brownsville our most recent title: "bicycling capital of the Rio Grande Valley" by Texas Legislature.  There are a variety of playgrounds along these trails, including the Park at the Brownsville Events Center.  

With pocketfuls of outdoor play areas along these paths, families are encouraged to walk, bike and hike together and catch occasional breaks.  This particular park has access to swings and a pirate ship, and also sits near a resaca.  For more information on the Hike and Bike Trails and for a complete map of the trails, please visit this website.

It's never too soon to expose your children to a love of reading.
If a break from the heat is what you crave, the Brownsville Public Library System has exactly what you are looking for.  With two different locations, a library card grants you access to thousands of books, a Summer Reading Program for children with incentives, the Reader's Mark Cafe with delicious drinks and pastries, internet and computer access, an Adult Reading Club, a Teen Book Club and Movie Time.  For more details on all the local library has to offer, please visit their website.

If you are looking for an online program to help your children with reading fluency, Summer Reading Skills through Baylor University offers curriculum for students as young as 4-years old through those entering the 12th grade.  Helping in the areas of phonics, comprehension, fluency, textbook study skills, speed reading and love of reading, your kids can hone their skills in the comfort of their own home.  Tuition depends on the particular program level, and family discounts are also available.  For more information or to register, please call 1-800-964-9974.  Hours of operation are Monday-Friday 7 am-8 pm and Saturday 8 am-3 pm.

South Padre Island
A portion of the wooden playground at Andy Bowie Park.
Located a mere 20 minutes northeast of us, South Padre Island is nationally known as one of our local gems.  Once on the island, a drive down Gulf Boulevard reveals a few different beach access points that are completely free, some that also include restrooms.  Be sure to pack plenty of water, sunblock, beach toys and necessities and a lunch, if you want to save even more money.

Paying $10 will also give you a one-day pass to Andy Bowie Park, located on the north side of the island, fully equipped with barbecue pits, restrooms and a wooden playground, and Isla Blanca Park,  located on the south side of South Padre with the same commodities.

A rescued turtle at Sea Turtle, Inc.
Sea Turtle, Inc. is a rehabilitative rescue center that conducts educational presentations to help inform the public on good beach habits and what to do if a sea turtle is found.  The center asks only for donations from those visiting and is a non-profit run mostly on donors.  For more details and to plan a visit, please visit their website.

Outdoor Fun
Home to the historic Rabb Plantation and newly opened Barbara T. Warburton Education Center, the Sabal Palm Sanctuary sits right along the U.S./Mexico border.  The sanctuary boasts more than 5 miles of nature trails that feature wildlife sighting areas, for those interested in birdwatching and observing rich biodiversity.  Weekly, guided bird walks and historical tours of the Rabb House are also offered.  Admission is $5 for adults, and $3 for children 12 and under.  Affordable annual passes are also available.  For further details, please visit their website.

Enjoy a bike ride along the Resaca de la Palma trails.
Part of the World Birding Center, Resaca de la Palma State Park is home to over 8 miles of trails and several observation decks.  There is a tram tour that goes around the park every hour and pockets of the Rio Grande can be seen from different areas.

The park also rents out bicycles and binoculars, if needed, for a small fee. Entrance is $4 for adults, with children 12 and under entering for free.  Special events happen monthly, and the summer is full of Ranger Programs.  For more information on these, please visit their website.

Located in Linear Park, the Brownsville Farmers' Market has grown in the last couple of years.  A family-friendly environment where you can find edibles like farm fresh eggs, raw honey, ready to eat and grow herbs, shrimp, homemade granola, fresh coffee and tea, among other items, the market strives to support local farmers and promote healthy living.  Open every Saturday from 9 am-noon year round, the market will often host morning yoga and Zumba classes, and features live music.
Come support local farmers and healthy eating at the Brownsville Farmers' Market.

When you are done at the market, head across the street to the Gladys Porter Zoo.  Home to 1500 animals on 31 acres of land, the zoo is a favorite, historic spot.  With a paved, shaded walkway that runs throughout, snack bars with picnic tables, a playground, petting zoo,  butterfly garden and gift shop, it is the perfect escape for little ones to get their wiggles out and adults to enjoy a break.  Membership to the zoo is a worthy investment so that visits can be enjoyed all year long.  Single members pay $60 annually, while a family can purchase a card for $80 (this includes two adults and an unlimited amount of children under the age of 18).  For more information on membership and visiting, please visit their website.

A handsome peacock shows off at the Gladys Porter Zoo.
So there you have it!  Enjoy the summer and all that our city on the border by the sea has to offer.  While you're making the rounds, be sure to grab a raspa or agua fresca from one of our many locally owned stands to stay hydrated.  Carry plenty of water and sunblock during your excursions and get lost discovering old favorites and new places.  Perhaps I'll see you around.

If you're looking for a way to stay on top of your expenses this summer, check out Personal Capital and their useful financial tools