Larry Parks

Andy Smith stands next to the Marsh Exhibit Walkway at Sea Center Texas in Lake Jackson.

One of the great benefits from a visit to Sea Center Texas in Lake Jackson is all admissions are free. On some days several hundred school kids tour this vast 75-acre indoor and outdoor complex for an education into the marvels of Mother Nature.

Young and old are greeted at the entrance to the visitor center lobby by volunteers standing by to answer all questions and show them the way for a casual stroll, starting with the touch tank that is a fascinating experience, especially for the kids. Many of them, for their first time view and touch creatures that live in and around our waterways.

There are six aquariums along the hallway, up to 50,000 gallons in size, that house saltwater creatures from tiny little barnacles to giant tarpon living in an artificial habitat.

This fascinating and educational experience can be followed outside by walking an elevated walkway through a 5-acre wetland exhibit that includes freshwater and saltwater marshes. There are lots of Mother Nature’s creatures that many observe for the first time along the way, and the volunteers have a world of information about each. Groups of 10 or more can make appointments led by volunteers for a tour through the hatchery.

Giant brood tanks with look through viewing glass reveal the moms and pops swimming in their man-made habitat. They produce millions of eggs that float to the surface and are removed with dip nets. They are transferred to the incubators, where visitors can see different stages of developing eggs into fry that take place in about 30 hours.

The tour is completed with a visit to an outdoor 1-acre fish feeding pond. Volunteers throw handfuls of floating pellets on the water as visitors watch in amazement to a fish feeding frenzy provided by hundreds of fish splashing the surface for a meal.

Those 138 volunteers at Sea Center are what wind the clock, many giving thousands of free hours into educating the young and old about the wondrous world in and around the water’s edge. Most would tell you the highlight of their day is watching the youth on fishing days as many catch their first fish and see the joy that it brings to them. It’s important to document what motivates a few of these community leaders into giving their time and energy to Sea Center since they are a big part of its success story. Andy Smith is just one of many.

What motivates Andy is his love of the fish. I know this is true because he has fished most of his life and told me about an encounter he had with life beneath the waves during a hooking adventure in the marvelous world of sight wade fishing. He and one of his fishing buddies stepped out of the boat along a cut in Matagorda Bay for a short wade.

Like most avid rod benders, they were getting a few shots of adrenaline running through their veins in anticipation of a battle with some of those shadows that glide along.

Their anticipation was justified on this day because they stepped into a world of wall to wall juvenile redfish. Andy said, “It was the rarest and most exhausting experience he had ever had with our scaly friends. Standing in one place for a couple of hours catching and releasing those wild dudes on every cast was a dream day.”

Andy had his first experience with our community working for RCA installing and maintaining computers at Brazosport College. In those days, they were so large that most of a good size room was necessary to house them.

Soon computers became much smaller. RCA went out of the large computer business, but the college still needed someone to maintain their equipment and Andy got the job. His association with the college and encouragement from his wife, Sharon, motivated him to return to college at The University of Houston and complete his degree in mathematics and computer science, which turned into a career of teaching at the college.

Lots of years educating kids, along with still having time to pursue his fishing hobby, led him to a nice retirement in 2005. Interest in the great outdoors pushed him into using some of his free retirement time in public service.

Each year in June or July, he makes a long drive to Colorado to spend a week doing volunteer maintenance work on The Colorado Trail. He is one of many who help maintain this 580-mile hiking trail that runs from Denver to Durango.

Sea Center Texas in Lake Jackson is the service that gives him the most pleasure. Since 2009, Andy has logged 1,800 hours working as a volunteer educating visitors about this local treasure that helps maintain our fish population, which is one of our largest industries.

He has walked many miles through the years, along the indoor and outdoor exhibits, showing those who give him the most pleasure, our youth, the ways of nature.

The content of this story is the personal observations of Larry Parks and does not necessarily reflect those of Texas Parks & Wildlife Department or any of its employees.

Larry Parks is a local columnist for The Facts.

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