By Carlos Morales
The historic Castolon district has visitor services once again, nearly six months after a wildfire scorched through hundreds of acres in this remote corner of Big Bend National Park.
The area has been closed off to traffic and would-be hikers since May 21, when a fire that started in Mexico jumped the Rio Grande into the park and burned through about 900 acres. The fast-moving blaze was contained after 11 days, but not before it engulfed and destroyed the district’s historic adobe barracks buildings — which housed the Castolon Visitor Center and the La Harmonia Store. Now, park officials have set up temporary facilities in the district to provide visitor services to this far-flung area of the park.
The temporary store the park has set up for visitor services is a prefabricated building that’s been insulated and outfitted with air-conditioning. Visitors here are now able to buy concessions like cold drinks and snacks — or find a brief reprieve from the West Texas sun.
“This is a big milestone, as plans for the re-opening Castolon began literally days after the fire swept through,” Acting Superintendent David Elkowitz said in a press release. “It was a concerted effort by all park divisions, Forever Resorts, and our supportive park partners to make this happen.”
Tom VandenBerg, Chief of Interpretation for Big Bend National Park said in an email to Marfa Public Radio that the temporary set up will likely “serve visitors for several years” while the park determines a longterm plan.
The park is in the process of setting up a visitor information center at the Castolon Ranger Station, which should be open by the end of the week. The site will be staffed daily through April 2020, according to VandenBerg.
It’s currently unclear how much it will cost to restore the two historic structures that were destroyed, but Big Bend enthusiasts and groups like the Big Bend Conservancy have set up a fundraiser to help cover the costs.
Once these buildings are “cleaned and stabilized,” VandenBerg said the park will develop a plan for their restoration.
Park officials have kept the damaged ruins of the La Harmonia Store and Visitor Center fenced off out of safety concerns.