Editor’s note: This article was originally published August 26, 2013

About five years ago I got tired of just driving past the Mother Neff State Park sign on Interstate 35. I pulled off the highway, tugged on my hiking boots and spent a couple of hours exploring the first official state park in Texas.

This week, Texas Parks and Wildlife crews kick off a $6.5-million redevelopment project at the park, located about 20 minutes off the interstate and about 15 miles northwest of Temple. Highlights of the project include a new headquarters building, a new campground with 20 full hookup campsites, a new park entrance, a maintenance area, restroom with showers and new roads. Work will also be done to address recurring flooding problems at the park, which is bordered by the Leon River.

The project should be finished by August 2015.

I tramped all over the park during my visit, walking beneath huge pecan trees down by the river, exploring a rock shelter once used by native Americans, and taking in the view from a grass-covered prairie.

This park was the site of a Civilian Conservation Corps encampment in the 1930s, and the legacy of those men’s work lives on today. A stone pavilion, a recreation hall and a water tower all carry that wonderful old CCC flavor.

The park is named for Mrs. Isabella Eleanor "Mother" Neff, who donated 6 acres of land for a park along the Leon River in 1916, according to parks officials. She died in 1921, but her son, Texas Gov. Pat M. Neff, created the Mother Neff Memorial Park, which later became an early unit of the Texas State Park System. In 1934, former Gov. Neff deeded 250 acres and Frank Smith added 3 acres to the existing memorial park. The state park opened to the public in 1937.

Last year, parks officials purchased about 150 acres of land to expand the park to 400 acres. It’s popular for camping, hiking, picnicking, fishing and family reunions.

For information about the park, call (254) 853-2389 or go to www.tpwd.state.tx.us/state-parks/mother-neff.