BROWNSVILLE, Texas (ValleyCentral) — Sunrise over Bahia Grande reveals skeletal stretch of ancient trestle tracing a long line toward the eastern horizon.
In 1872 the Rio Grande Railroad Company constructed a narrow-gauge railroad from Brownsville to Port Isabel.
In order to build the shortest line possible between the two towns, a 15,500-foot trestle was erected across the Bahia Grande.
Weathered hand-hewn cypress logs still stand as silent sentinels to the narrow gauge railroad built almost 150 years ago. The sturdy lumber and pilings were delivered to this distant South Texas destination from Mobile, Alabama.
Long before the construction of the Brownsville Ship Channel in the mid-1930s and Highway 48 in 1953 linking Brownsville to Port Isabel, this narrow gauge railroad bisected the estuary into a northern and southern basin.
This reduced but did not eliminate the internal circulation of Bahia Grande. The dredging of the ship channel and subsequent road-building did however cut off tidal flow to the basin rendering it a dust bowl until a pilot channel was created in 2005.
Bahia Grande continued to flourish as a vast 10,000-acre wetland following the railroad’s construction, and hunters were often allowed to disembark from the train to shoot the multitudes of ducks and geese.
Redhead ducks, in particular, were in abundance, and there are historical accounts of up to 15,000 redheads at a time using Bahia Grande.
With the construction of the Gayman channel 16 years ago, Bahia Grande, which is part of Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, is once again inundated and home to myriad birdlife. The channel is currently being deepened and widened to create even more circulation that will greatly enhance the estuary’s productivity.
Where a century and a half ago an aged narrow gauge railroad crossed Bahia, venerable cypress pilings now serve as roosting sites for abundant waterbirds as Bahia Grande comes full circle.