The tiny coastal town of Rockport may not look like much to the casual visitor. Situated on Aransas Bay, it isn’t beachy like Port Aransas. The old downtown’s main drag, Austin Street, doesn’t offer much but an old shell shop, a tacky souvenir store, a handful of gift shops, and the occasional eatery.
But for fishermen, birders, duck hunters, boaters, and anyone not into Port A’s party atmosphere, Rockport is a treasure — a place that only grows in appreciation with each visit in winter and summer, pleasant weather and foul.
For San Antonio families such as mine who for years have traveled down Interstate 37 to the Texas coast, Rockport is place to enjoy the outdoors and the town’s slow, laid-back vibe. Art lovers come for the annual Rockport Art Festival, while history buffs take in the recently restored Fulton Mansion, with its mansard roof and period furnishings. Still others come to Rockport simply for being near the water and the southeasterly bay breezes.
I have made countless visits to Rockport since I was about 7 years old, often staying in a bayfront house owned by a family friend on Key Allegro, an island of vacation homes and condos. In the late 1980s, my parents purchased a home there that we enjoyed for five years. Three years ago, I introduced my husband and children to Rockport and Key Allegro.
Initially, they weren’t impressed, being accustomed to the more bustling beach towns of North Carolina and the South Carolina Lowcountry. But just like me, they learned to appreciate the peaceful beauty of watching the sun set over Little Bay, the fun of feeding noisy seagulls bits of stale bread, and the wonder of seeing a dolphin and her calf surface tantalizingly close to our dock.
Now my family is sharing my sense of profound worry and sadness over the fate of Rockport as the town took the full impact of Category 4 Hurricane Harvey. After watching television, internet, and social media coverage of the storm Friday night, we now wonder what will become of the original houses on Key Allegro, which date to the early 1960s and have weathered many a storm but not one packing winds the strength of Harvey’s.
We feel concern for the many people who earn their livelihood hard by Aransas Bay, running small businesses of all kinds, waiting tables in restaurants, guiding anglers on fishing trips, taking shrimp boats out to the Gulf.
We wonder, too, whether the dozens of species of birds – roseate spoonbills, great blue herons, snowy egrets, and many more – who nest on Bird Island near Rockport Beach Park will return to the area once the winds fade and storm surge recedes.
Uncertainty can be harsh. But until we know more, I lean on the memories of many visits over four decades.
I have swum in the bay, ridden jet skis over choppy waters, and navigated Key Allegro’s system of canals in our small Boston Whaler. I have arisen in the early morning hours of a winter day to board the Wharf Cat and see endangered whooping cranes at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. I have eaten at places as diverse as the venerable but now-closed Duck Inn and the Asian cuisine of Hu Dat in Fulton. I have boiled, peeled, and eaten by the dozen the sweet and fresh shrimp purchased at the Rockport Marina. And I have labored to land redfish, the prize of area sport fishermen, in the flats of Aransas Bay.
We have had our share of mishaps at Rockport, too. Our water-loving springer spaniel once leaned too far over the bow of our boat and tumbled overboard, right into the path of the propeller. He survived to enjoy many more boat rides. I’ve been stung by schools of jellyfish. Just this past spring break, my husband sliced open his forearm on the razor-sharp edge of a oyster shell in the bay. Dr. Thomas Nguyen at Rockport’s urgent care clinic expertly stapled the wound closed.
As the extent of the damage to Rockport becomes clearer in the days to come, as residents and vacation home owners venture back to see what remains, I want only to be able to see a pink cloud of roseate spoonbills rise up from Bird Island, signaling that the essence of Rockport endures.