An afternoon of activities, many geared toward youngsters, begins at 1 p.m. and ends at 5:30 p.m. with a talk on the history of the railroad and tunnel by a member of the Kendall County Historical Society. After the event, visitors are invited to stay for the nightly bat emergence from the tunnel.
The first 70 visitors can pay $5 to walk the half-mile nature trail down to the lower viewing area to see the bat emergence up close. Tickets will go on sale about 6 p.m. Seating for the lower viewing area is limited to 70 visitors. Any remaining visitors can watch from the upper viewing area for free.
Approximately 20,000 people visit the state park each year, primarily to view the bats emerging from the abandoned rail tunnel in their nightly search for insects. The tunnel is home to approximately 3,000 cave myotis bats and up to 3 million Mexican free-tailed bats from May through October.
“For the kids, we will be offering bat crafts, a storybook trail and face-painting,” says Nyta Brown, Old Tunnel State Park superintendent. “We’ll also have interpreters from Enchanted Rock State Natural Area and Lyndon B. Johnson, Blanco and Guadalupe River state parks on hand doing demonstrations and providing information about their parks.”
According to an article on the Texas Transportation Museum website, the long-awaited rail service in 1913 out of Fredericksburg cut the usual travel time by mule-drawn stagecoach from the Texas Hill Country burg to San Antonio by more than a day and a half. The SAF&N railroad connected with the main San Antonio & Aransas Pass rail line between Waring and Comfort.
The railroad’s 24 miles of track through rugged hill country terrain required 24 bridges and trestles, and the blasting of a tunnel through a limestone hillside at the highest point along the route about 11 miles southeast of Fredericksburg and 13 miles north of Comfort. The rail line, by then known as the Fredericksburg & Northern Railroad, was abandoned in 1942 due to financial difficulties and the success of bus service between the two cities.
The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department purchased the 16 acres, which includes the 920-foot long Old Tunnel, in 1991 to operate as a wildlife management area. Due to the large number of visitors, the property was transferred to the State Parks Division in 2011 to become a state park.
Old Tunnel State Park, which is located at 10619 Old San Antonio Road, is open year-round from sunrise to sunset. Bat viewing occurs nightly from May through October. There is no fee to watch the bat emergence from the upper viewing area. The lower viewing area is closed Monday through Wednesday, May through October, but is accessible the rest of the week via a half-mile, primitive trail by paying a $5 fee. Visitors must stay on designated trails and are not allowed inside the tunnel.
Call (866) 978-2287 for up-to-date bat emergence information. For directions and to learn more about Old Tunnel State Park, visit: http://tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/old-tunnel.
To see downloadable Old Tunnel images, visit: http://tpwd.texas.gov/newsmedia/news_images/?g=old_tunnel_state_park