Tourists return to area ravaged by hurricane

Jessica Priest By Jessica Priest

Nov. 27, 2017 at 10:18 p.m.
Updated Nov. 28, 2017 at 6 a.m.

Birders, from front, Sue  Sneddon, of North Carolina; Grace Nordhoff, of Washington; and Linda Matson, of Arizona, look for birds during a tour.

Birders, from front, Sue Sneddon, of North Carolina; Grace Nordhoff, of Washington; and Linda Matson, of Arizona, look for birds during a tour.   Angela Piazza for The Victoria Advocate

FULTON - They were enthralled and cheering like proud parents at a Little League game.

"Get it! Get it!"

But they weren't at a game; they weren't even on dry land.

More than 30 people were aboard the Skimmer as one of nature's marvels tried to snag a snake.

"These guys were on the verge of extinction, so we're really lucky to see them," Jeff Culler said about the grus americana.

It reared up and extended its black-tipped wings, all 71/2 feet of them, to much awe and applause.

Culler and his friend, Joe Hanfman, flew from Maryland to see the grus americana, or whooping crane, and dozens of other species of birds that call the area home part or all of the year.

Sandy Jumper, the director of tourism and events for the Rockport-Fulton Chamber of Commerce, said she can't overstate the importance of their visits to an area still on the long road to recovery from Hurricane Harvey.

Hanfman said they were forced to stay in Portland because the hotels closest to where Capt. Tommy Moore leaves from Fulton Harbor either had no vacancies or were damaged.

Hanfman has come to Rockport three times before and has seen whooping cranes in Wisconsin and Nebraska, too.

"Even though I knew I'd see the same birds, I still wanted to come," he said. "If you want to see whooping cranes up close, this is the best place to do it."

About 16.3 million people left home to bird-watch in 2016, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

That year, all wildlife watchers spent about $11.6 million on their trips, dropping cash for not only food, lodging and transportation but also guide fees and equipment rentals.

Peering through their binoculars, the bird-watchers found five more whooping cranes foraging for wolf berries at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. Some were rust-colored chicks that had made the trip of more than 3,000 miles from Canada for the first time.

"That'd make a good picture," Bill Siever said, elbowing Linda Matson.

"I'm on it," she said while whipping out her digital camera.

The couple from Tuscon, Ariz., canceled their tour with Moore when they saw a picture of his boat upside down on Facebook only to rebook it.

"I felt guilty. I felt like a jerk, and ultimately, it kind of backfired because places were booking up so fast. But we ended up finding a tiny Airbnb cottage in Rockport. We wanted to stay in Rockport to support them," Matson said.

They flew to Texas for the first time to attend the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival in Harligen the week before.

Others had come from North Carolina and Washington state.

They chuckled when they realized they'd mistaken a feral hog nearby for a boulder, and minutes later, they learned how the whooping cranes got their name when the birds expressed displeasure with the hog's proximity.

Sometimes, when they scanned the horizon, they found a toppled trash can in the coastal marsh. But other than that, Harvey did not cast a shadow over the day.

For example, one of boat's propellers snapped off on the way back to the harbor, but no one complained about going 8 knots instead of 25. All the more time to spot the tri-colored heron, the white ibis, the snowy egret and the seaside sparrow.

When they docked, the bird-watchers headed to Charlotte Plummer's, a seafood restaurant just a short walk away.

Carl Griffin reopened the restaurant and a gift shop across the street in mid-September.

"We got a lot of hugs the first few days," he said.

Griffin was fighting off a cold while overseeing construction projects at The Inn at Fulton Harbor, where some bird-watchers professed they would have preferred to stay, and at his home.

He said the hurricane's 150 mph winds damaged the inn's soffits and water ruined 44 rooms.

Despite the damage, he hopes to reopen the inn by Dec. 15.

He hired a contractor from California. That contractor agreed to go ahead with the repairs even though Griffin is still working out the details with his insurance company.

"I have a lot of people working on faith right now," he said.

Jatin Bhatka's La Quinta is open, but its guests are contractors and insurance agents instead of tourists.

His Fairfield Inn and Hampton Inn in Rockport both have to be completely gutted and likely won't reopen for eight months to a year, Bhatka said.

From November to April last year, Moore gave 120 tours, each carrying about 25 people.

Although this year is bound to be different, he was nevertheless optimistic. He even referred some people who like to photograph birds to Lori and Kevin Sims, who run Aransas Bay Birding Charters.

"I'm glad our birders persevere like our birds do," Moore said.

Jumper, of the Rockport-Fulton Chamber of Commerce, agreed. She updates a list of businesses that are open. Last week, there were more than 300, and the list is growing every day.

"Of course, we'd love to have them stay here, but if that's not possible, Corpus Christi is not that far of a drive. If you've come all this way, what's an hour's drive?" she said.

Related coverage

Day 1: Here comes Harvey

Day 2: Brace yourself

Day 3: 'Prayers protect us'

Day 4: 'We thought we were going to die'

Day 5: 'At least God let us live'

Day 6: 'It's the luck of the draw'

Day 7: 'Everybody will pull together'

Day 8: Guadalupe floods parts of Victoria

Day 9: Texas Zoo evacuates animals (w/video)

Day 10: The Long Road Ahead (w/video)

Day 11: Residents rely on families to rebuild

Day 12: For some, normal still far away

Day 13: Church offers refuge for devastated town

Day 14: Victims find hardship, opportunity (w/video)

Day 15: FEMA frustrates Harvey victims

Day 16: Displaced and in disarray

Day 17: Disaster for humans means catastrophe for pets

Day 18: Nature interrupted (w/video)

Day 19: 'It was like we had been bombed'

Day 20: Students returning to school feel weight of Harvey

Day 21: International Crane Foundation loses office after hurricane

Day 22: Ranching structures, cotton mostly damaged by Harvey

Day 23: Port Lavaca struggles back after Harvey

Day 24: Refugio: 'We're trying to get back to normal'

Day 25: Nonprofit leaves people lost after Harvey

Day 26: 'We are human beings like everyone else'

Day 27: Refugio schools find way to reopen

Day 28: Bloomington schools begin year in different classroom setups

Day 29: Methodist church serves those in need after hurricane

Day 30: Scientists measure damage to endangered species' habitat (w/video)

Day 31: Medical community feels impact of Harvey

Day 32: Harvey's speed leaves many in harm's way

Day 33: After Harvey, Seadrift couple forced out of home

Day 34: Bloomington Elementary School educates students in FEMA dome

Day 35: School districts share issues with state, US senator

Day 36: VISD students observe See You at the Pole

Day 37: Expectant family struggles after Harvey (w/video)

Day 38: Woodsboro pulls together after Harvey

Day 39: Housing options slim for displaced families

Day 40: SBA approves more than $500M in disaster loans

Day 41: Hunger greater in Crossroads post-Harvey

Day 42: 'Harvey broke me'

Day 44: Goliad baby born as hurricane swirled toward Crossroads

Day 45: Mother recalls 'scary' birth during Harvey

Day 46: Harvey devastates homeowners without insurance

Day 47: Officials have no details on housing relief

Day 48: Harvey impacts couple's 2 Victoria businesses, Rockport home

Day 49: Crews begin repair work on historic McFaddin church

Day 50: Hurricane, flood force Jaguars to make adjustments

Day 51: Texas Zoo thanks Vickers students for donation

Day 52: Seadrift women helping people affected by hurricane

Day 53: Mold creates big problem for homeowners

Day 54: Crossroads public agencies deal with FEMA challenges

Day 55: Special delivery

Day 56: Texas Gulf Coast mayors discuss Harvey aftermath

Day 57: Tenants sue after Harvey eviction

Day 58: Nonprofit directors face difficult fundraising decision after Harvey

Day 59: VISD applies for waivers to reduce Harvey burden

Day 60: Victoria's relief efforts lacked coordination, leadership

Day 61: Popular restaurant battles back from Harvey

Day 62: City looks to buy sprinkler controls for $160K

Day 63: Housing after Harvey (w/video)

Day 64: City looks to help with hefty water bills

Day 65: Men's shelter, soup kitchen closed because of Harvey

Day 66: Watt routes almost $1M to Crossroads' hungry

Day 67: Recovery group seeks members, community leaders

Day 68: Habitat volunteers help Harvey victims rebuild

Day 69: Lawmakers, counties to discuss Harvey response

Day 70: Oyster season opens after Harvey; new rules adopted

Day 71: Crossroads leaders talk storm damage to lawmakers

Day 72: Symphony to open concert season after Harvey delay

Day 73: Harvey recovery group works to measure unmet needs

Day 74: City considers ways to shore up water system

Day 75: County officials: Mobile homes need more oversight

Day 76: Recipient of state honor persists despite Harvey setbacks

Day 77: Heroes, lessons emerge in Harvey's wake

Day 78: Harvey, budget shortfalls challenge local leaders

Day 79: Salvation Army traditional holiday meal to continue

Day 80: City water had no bacteria despite Harvey outage

Day 81: Leaders still don't have Harvey recovery details

Day 82: Devereux officials remain hopeful despite hurricane damage

Day 83: Bloomington students, district still feel impact of Harvey

Day 84: Officials consider waiving school accountability ratings

Day 85: FEMA center in Cuero to close Nov. 22

Day 86: Zoo to spread its wings again

Day 87: Recovery group urges residents to apply for FEMA

Day 88: Rural Victoria County fights for help after Harvey

Day 89: Council to revisit rules on temporary housing

Day 90: Customers, employees respond to Lacks, Harbor Freight reopenings

Day 91: State officials remove sunken damage along Texas coast

Day 92: Refugio couple lose roof, but not hope

Day 93: Salvation Army Thanksgiving meal a success

Day 94: Home improvement stores prosper on Black Friday

Day 95: 'They are small, but their voices are loud'

Day 96: Harvey increases construction business, causes shortage of workers

Helpful information

Where to get water, gas and other supplies

Helpful information after the storm

Updates on city services


SHARE


Comments


Powered By AffectDigitalMedia