By Sarah-Hope Carter
You may know the Wynne Home for its beautiful architecture; or, you may know it for its regular art exhibits; others know it because of the great programs it offers, such as Empty Bowls or its annual Easter Egg Hunt. But the Wynne Home also offers a speaker series, and last week, Dr. Michael Strutt, the Director of Cultural Resources for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, discussed how our State Park system–just like the Wynne Home–is multi-dimensional.
Before the event began, I had the opportunity to look at the newest exhibit being shown at the Wynne Home. Under a Texas Sky by Derrick Birdsall was a beautiful back drop to the conversation about past Texans and the natural landscape the Texas Parks and Wildlife has worked so hard to protect.
I was also able to enjoy refreshments provided by the Friends of the Wynne and mingle with Miranda Estrada, a former LEAP Ambassador who–two degrees later–is working as the City’s Economic Development Specialist.
I also introduced myself to Dr. Strutt before the event began to discuss career opportunities within the Texas Parks and Wildlife, the powers held by the Texas Game Wardens and Park Police, and living in Austin.
Sarah Faulkner, the Cultural Services Manager for the Wynne Home, began the night by introducing Dr. Strutt. Ms. Faulkner actually met Dr. Strutt when she was working for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department at the Battleship Texas State Historic Site. Dr. Strutt, originally from Virgina, has held his position for the Texas Parks and Wildlife for 21 years and received degrees in Anthropology, Earth Sciences, and Archeology.
Dr. Strutt started the presentation by explaining of the organizational structure of the Cultural Department. The department is divided into five smaller departments: archeology, archeology collection, preservation, cultural services, and the regional cultural services. All of the departments, except for the regional services, work out of the headquarters in Austin. The department does a lot of various tasks to ensure the preservation of our past such as fixing, cataloging, and restoring historic buildings, furniture, and other historic objects, as well as cleaning and waxing statues. With over 60,000 historical objects catalogued in Portfolio and a web application that TPWD employees use to reference historical objects that are all over the state, Dr. Strutt and his team stay very busy.
He went into depth about specific projects the Cultural Resources department has worked on, projects that are currently in the works, and the next steps for the Texas Parks and Wildlife. One of the projects I found the most fascinating was the restoration of adobe buildings at a fort in West Texas. The Cultural Resources department not only found a specialist to ensure that the building was restored, but they taught the Rangers, Interpreters, and other Park employees how to restore the building.
Dr. Strutt emphasized that every employee must know the history their park and how to care for it to ensure that the employees could answer questions from the public and, more importantly, take pride in their parks. Another recent project that took place was very close to home, as the Cultural Resources office helped Huntsville State Park redo the siding on the boathouse build by the Civilian Conservation Corps over 80 years ago.
In the field, the Cultural Resources team is also working hard. At Seminole State Park, archeologists have just recently discovered a fire pit that was last used over 2000 years ago. The site was discovered during an archeological survey before a pump station was built. At Caprock Canyon State Park, after years of erosion along the cliffs, archeologists apart of Dr. Stutts team have discovered a large deposit of Bison remains. They believe the location was a site for meat processing for a Native American tribe at one time. Dr. Strutt informed us that once more research had been included, both of these sites would be a part of the interpretation of their respective parks.
Being that is it that centennial year of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Dr. Strutt and his team have been working on various projects about the history of the department itself. He told us all about the first female superintendent of a Texas State Park, Carrie May Ferrell. Ferrell was the Superintendent of Stephen F Austin State Park during the early 1930s, but she was not the only female trailblazer in the Parks Department. Ethel Harris was the Superintendent of Mission San Jose for 22 years, before her retirement in 1963, while also running her own art business. Learning about the conservation efforts of women before women were widely accepted into the workplace was more than inspiring.
While we spend a lot of time discussing Texas’ past, we also discussed the future, that is the future of State Parks. Texas Parks and Wildlife Department recently announced that they will be opening two new natural areas and three new state parks soon. Before any construction can begin, archeological studies must be conducted, interpretations of any objects must be researched, and much more will be done by the Cultural Resources office. There are also new technologies being introduced to parks to make them more accessible such as free interpretation apps for individuals who are visually impaired. These apps are alert individuals of trail signs and actually read those signs, whether directions or interpretations, aloud. The technology is actively used at Palmetto State Park currently.
At one point during the presentation, Dr. Strutt was talking about why he likes his job. There were a lot of different reasons, but the one that stood out to me was when he said, “I get to see your parks.” A sentence as simple of that was enough to remind me that the parks, historical sites, and everything in them are parts of what Texas was and is. It was a beautiful remembrance of how connected we are to those who came before us.
The night concluded with the Friends of the Wynne presenting Dr. Strutt with a book reflecting art made out of interpretation for the state parks. Dr. Strutt was kind enough to stick around for a while to chat with attendees.
When I went to thank him for the riveting presentation, he commented on the number of State Parks I had visited. Whenever he would discuss a project, he would ask who had been to that park and most times I would raise my hand. We discussed the state parks we had both been to and which were our favorite, neither one of us could pick just one park but we both had an appreciation for Lost Maples. He suggested I go to Palo Duro Canyon, a state park I have always wanted to visit, and informed me that there was no sunset like the sunset on the canyon.