It’s summer, and many of us have already had at least one trip to South Padre Island.
For valley natives, it’s a vacation that spans decades in one’s life.
Tonight, in the first of a two-part series, we go past the sunshine and sea breeze, investigating how the island has fared against the economic tides.
And where it places in the country, and even worldwide.
South Padre Island, miles of shoreline in the backyard of the Rio Grande Valley. A get-a-way to soak in the gulf breeze.
“This is the prettiest beach in Texas,” said Jimmy Gates, Spent Summers at SPI for 50 Years, “You’re not going to find the water clearer anywhere else.”
Not only in Texas, but the country. According to the city, the island is a top destination for clean beaches. A five-star rating for water quality, according to USA Today.
“It’s very pristine, it’s totally unspoiled and non-polluted,” said Dennis Franke, Franke Realtors.
From dolphin-watching to massive, yet gentle, sea turtles. South Padre Ssland is a sanctuary and breeding ground for hundreds of species.
“I think that it brings more families, not so much of spring breakers and younger crowd,” said Roberta Jackson, Manager of SPI Birding Center.
An unlikely contribution to the island’s economy. The birding center says wildlife watching in the Rio Grande Valley brings in over $4-million a year, according to Texas A&M. A resting location during migration, travelers from all over the world flock here to catch a glimpse of the rare feathered flights.
From air to water, the island also ranks as one of the top five destinations in the world for kiteboarding.
“It is one of the great barrier islands, and it has really good weather year-round,” said Joel Parker, Air Padre Kiteboarding.
So if laying on the beach just isn’t cutting it and you want to up the adreniline, you can take baby steps paddlboating on the bay. Or take a big leap flying through the ocean air.
Island activities sure do work up an appetite. A local favorite is Dirty Al’s. What started as a fish stand, has grown into five restaurants.
“We have one of the largest groups of employees on the island,” said George Higginbotham, Dirty Al’s General Manager, “We keep growing and the rest of the economy is not doing so well.”
With a population of only around 5,000 people. A summer day can reach upwards of over 100,000 and with over 5-million visitors a year, tourism is a major boost to SPI.
“I think overall we are going to have a very good year,” said Robert Pinkerton, South Padre Island Mayor.
Arguably the most-anticipated development is a second causeway. Officials say when finalized, it will create a loop, easing traffic during peak times.
But the island isn’t without challenges. One inparticular that’s violent and destructive.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Hurricane Dolly in 2008 was the fourth most destructive hurricane in Texas.
Back to the sunny side. The city is always looking towards the horizon. And when it comes to a certain northern rival, they say the only thing they have in common is the sand they share.
Tomorrow, we are diving into Mexico’s increased influence on South Padre, how the island isn’t immune from border issues and the security that consequently goes hand-in-hand with that concern.
Vicki Gonzalez, FOX 2 News.