Protecting the park: Environmental allies camp out at Bentsen to protest border wall


MISSION — A modest but committed group of people gathered here Saturday at Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park, camping in the cool weather for a cause: the opposition of a planned border wall.

Most of the park’s 764 acres are at risk of being cut off from its visitors center as the construction is slated for February.

The overnight event was organized by the Lower Rio Grande Valley Sierra Club, University of Texas Rio Grande Valley Environmental Awareness Club, the Texas Civil Rights Project, Friends of the Wildlife Corridor and community volunteers.

Friends of the Wildlife Corridor board member Tiffany Kersten began organizing monthly sunset walk in the spring when it became clear the future of the park was compromised by the impending wall, she said.

Carol Brown of McAllen waits at the entrance to the tent area at Bentsen State Park on Saturday Dec. 8, 2018, in Mission. A group named “Save Bentsen Campout” gathered at the park to raise awareness of the pending border wall construction. (Delcia Lopez |

Sunset at the Hawk Tower was part of the Saturday festivities, as well as a group photo, dinner on a campfire and a night hike. About 50 people attended.

“There aren’t many places in the Valley where you can do primitive camping,” said park naturalist Angela Rojas.

While visitors can’t use park wood, campers can bring wood for the fire pits. The National Butterfly Center donated the wood used for the three fires.

Rojas said that nighttime guests can see nocturnal sights — like scorpions or owls — that can’t be seen during the day. During the park’s Creatures of the Night events, guests use black lights to see fluorescent scorpions and “spider sniff,” which is to put a flashlight on one’s nose to see the reflecting eyes of arachnids in the distance.

The howls of coyotes could be heard, as well as the passing copter blades of patrolling aerial vehicles.

Campers are also encouraged to write postcards to their representatives to express their opinions on border policy. Scott Nicol with the Lower Rio Grande Valley Sierra Club said this was important because Congress is deciding how much funding to given to more sections of the border wall.

A group gathers to take a photo with a “No Border Wall” sign at Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park. The group was there to raise awareness of the pending border wall construction on Saturday, Dec. 8, 2018, in Mission. (Delcia Lopez |

“It’s critical that we really send messages to Congress that this is not acceptable and border residents reject this,” Nicol said.

Mission resident Sarah Leal said she remembered when RVs were allowed in the park, and reminisced about her childhood.

“Now, everyone is liking photos of places like this instead of actually coming out here and socializing,” said Leal, who said it was important to expose her kids to the park while they have access.

But not everyone in attendance had enjoyed the park before. Kersten said she wanted to raise awareness and introduce the park to people that hadn’t visited.

Cassandra Banda of Brownsville had never been to Bentsen before Saturday but was drawn there by a social media post.

“I had no idea they were going to build a wall right here,” she said.

She said it was a bad idea to do anything that could lead to the closing of the park because of potentially disrupting wildlife and preventing residents from experiencing the park.

“It’s beautiful,” Banda said. “I wasn’t expecting this, to be honest.

“But it’s a really nice place and I would hate for them to shut it down.”

For Kersten, the activities are a way to recruit more environmental allies without lecturing them, she said.

Cristian Ruiz and Tiffany Kersten make hot chocolate on a camp fire Saturday night at Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park in Mission. (Daniel A. Flores | The Monitor)

“You have to know something to love it, and you have to love something to project it,” she said. “The first step is to get someone out to the park to see what they’d be losing.”