“It’s all about the kids,” said longtime Mineola Youth Foundation member Mike Bowles. While he referred to the baseball, softball and T-ball leagues run by the foundation, summer sports options in Mineola serve all kids, including big ones.
Mineola Nature Preserve
A review of summer sporting options must begin at the one-of-a-kind Mineola Nature Preserve. “The preserve is the largest city park in the state of Texas, and likely the nation,” remarked Cindy Karch, Mineola city secretary.
The 2,911-acre preserve is well known for its trails. Hiking, biking, and horse trails crisscross the vast acreage. Some of the trails follow old rail lines from bygone days. Massive pilings and timbers can be found throughout the preserve along these elevated paths.
Hiking trails range from small circular trails in a pasture-like setting, to long strenuous trails into the Sabine River bottoms. Trail management is unique and although the city employs two maintainers, much of the maintenance work is taken up by local volunteers.
The most obvious trail, the Sabine River itself, shapes the southern boundary of the preserve. A canoe launch has recently been added at the southeastern corner for those desiring to embark from the preserve and haul out further down river.
A less known adjunct to the park is the horse derby located just off the loop in the northwest corner. The derby features 12 campsites with attached holding corrals, and ample room to maneuver trailers. The preserve is one of the most frequented equine sport venues in the area, due to the well-maintained trails, scenic value and the derby.
Two new additions to the preserve have added sporting value this year. The Greer Hill biking trails give riders a unique vertical challenge in amongst some thickly wooded terrain. Karch explained how the success of a winter bike rally at Greer Hill led to the installation of three bike repair stations.
A disc golf course, recently installed, is the latest addition to the preserve. The growing sport takes great advantage of the open prairie and topography without spoiling the natural beauty.
The list of sporting options is long: hiking, mountain biking, horse riding, canoeing, camping, disc golf, bird watching, and archery are available. A large playground at the main entrance is well equipped for young children. Mineola stocks a number of the small ponds with trout, and one can fish for free with no license.
Just about anything one could desire to do in the great outdoors is available at the preserve.
Mineola Civic Center grounds
Should one seek a place to recreate closer to town, the 38-acre Mineola Civic Center grounds offer an excellent choice. The Civic Center is a non-profit organization that had its beginnings in a 1968 town meeting. Subsequently the Meredith Foundation purchased the grounds for the center and the Civic Center was born.
The Civic Center’s charter calls for providing a meeting facility and recreation area for the citizens of Mineola, Wood County and surrounding counties, stated manager Nancy Murphy. The intent is to provide the citizens something to do that will enhance their lives, she explained.
Murphy lauded the relationship with the city, describing it as a “great partnership.” Approximately half the center’s budget is provided by the Meredith Foundation with the balance made up by revenue from rental of the convention and meeting rooms, and use of the RV pads.
Although best known for hosting RV rallies and use of the convention building, the Civic Center staff also maintains six lighted tennis courts. The courts remain open until 10 p.m., at which time the lights turn off.
Large open fields stretch out south of the RV park and are used by a variety of groups and individuals. Whether it is a local soccer league or a family flying a kite or someone practicing with their 8 iron, the grounds are open.
“We welcome any and everyone,” stated Murphy.
For the youngsters, the splash park and recently modernized playground are sport all to itself. During hours of operation at the splash park, the pavilion will offer snacks for sale.
Future improvements may include a dedicated walking path as a good number of local residents take a frequent walk around the grounds.
Murphy proudly described the relationships built at the center. As an example, the tennis courts are used by Mineola High School tennis teams, whose athletes have put in volunteer service at the center.
Mineola Soccer Association
Making use of the Civic Center grounds is the Mineola Soccer Association. During Saturday mornings from February to May, and August to November, crowds of youngsters can be seen feverishly competing in “the great game.”
Presently 17 co-ed teams are playing in the under-6 to under-14 year-old age groups. Many Mineola High School soccer players experienced their first competitive play in the association’s Saturday morning match-up.
Founded in 1994, the association has experienced steady growth. Tammy Smith, association president, stated they average 125-150 youngsters per season. There are no restrictions on residency; the league is open to all comers.
The group is a member of the North Texas Soccer Association. As such, the events are covered under the insurance umbrella of the larger organization.
Smith’s enthusiasm for the sport is obvious. She summarized, “It is an awesome sport. There are so many benefits to this sport because it keeps the kids in almost constant motion.”
Mineola Youth Foundation
Tucked away at the junction of the FM 1254 and CR 2503 are the baseball and softball ballparks of the Mineola Youth Foundation. Since 1962, the foundation has provided thousands of local youngsters the formative experience of organized baseball and softball.
According to Robert Hamlin, foundation president, both a spring season and a fall season are available for local youngsters. The spring season is a part of the Texas Teenage Baseball/Softball Association and is open to all kids who reside within the Mineola school district. The fall league is run entirely by the Youth Foundation and is open to all of East Texas. Approximately 300 youngsters participate in the spring season, while more than 700 played fall ball last year.
The foundation organizes a Learners’ League for 3- to 4-year-old kids in the spring. Additional leagues cover ages 4-15 for girls and 4-14 for boys. Jan.1 is the deadline for spring registration and May 1 for fall.
As the faces of the young competitors at last weekend’s pre-season tournament clearly reflected, the joy of baseball is alive and well in Mineola.
The ballpark complex features eight playing fields. This year the last of the new aluminum light towers will be installed, and batting cages have been added at the complex. The foundation’s next project will be to erect permanent awnings over the spectator stands and to fence off the property along the Loop 564 boundary.
“A lot of hard work goes into the upkeep and operation,” commented Bowles, “but it would be nothing without the support of the Meredith Foundation. I can’t say enough about them.”
City secretary Karch described the progress already made to build a lighted, full-size basketball court for the city. The design has been completed. The court will be oriented east-west near the city water tower at Wren Street between Front and Walnut streets. Each side of the court will be equipped with two benches and one picnic table. Portable bathrooms and a paved parking lot for a dozen cars will complete the build.
Watch next week for more summer activities in Wood County communities.