Hurricane Ike in 2008 came close to making the Bolivar Peninsula a deserted one.

The costliest storm in Texas history rumbled ashore as a strong Category 2, packing 110 mph sustained winds.

But Ike, a massive storm, did his dirtiest work by drowning Bolivar in a surge that reached at least 16 feet, with waves higher than that pounding away, according to a National Weather Service report.

Communities such as Crystal Beach, Gilchrist and Caplen lost as much as 90 percent of their homes, many of them rentals that served as the peninsula's economic lifeblood. Ike gave the peninsula its nasty northeast side, leaving it more like a muddy flat instead of a vacation destination.

In the storm's aftermath, debate arose over whether to rebuild or scrape up the debris and abandon Bolivar, located east of Galveston. Hurricane Ike made history as the third-most devastating storm in U.S. history, killing more than 110 people, with more than 30 missing, and causing almost $30 billion in damage.

But it wasn't long before property owners rebuilt. Busi­ness owners temporarily reopened their stores in tents or portable buildings. Construction began to look like a busy fire-ant mound.

Today, that spirit of recovery has resulted in Bolivar rising from the mud, destruction and tragedy and becoming a gleaming new version of its former self. The storm scoured away dilapidated houses, businesses and other structures that were peninsula eye sores.

Old businesses have rebuilt, and new ones have flocked to the peninsula. New houses were built high enough to be above the kind of storm surge that Ike brought.

 

BOLIVAR HISTORY

The peninsula was named for Simón Bolívar, the South American hero who lived from 1783 to 1830, according to the Texas State Historical Association website.

The narrow strip stretches 27 miles and serves as a barrier for the mainland, stretching three miles at its widest point. Its width narrows to only a quarter mile at Rollover Pass, a popular fishing spot.

Fort Travis stands at Point Bolivar on the peninsula's southwest tip. It is named for Alamo hero Col. William B. Travis. There is speculation that explorer Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vacaon found himself shipwrecked there instead of Galveston Island on Nov. 6, 1528.

Indians occupied the peninsula until the 19th century. There is an Atakapas burial ground near Caplen. The cannibalistic Karan­kawas were believed to have roamed here as well. And according to legend, Jean Laffite's pirate crew partied on the peninsula, and one of his cabin boys, Charles Cronea, is buried at High Island.

Slave traders used the peninsula as a highway be­tween Galveston and Louis­iana in the 1800s. Galveston Island settlers fled there during the Runaway Scrape in 1836.

Rollover Pass was built in 1955 to allow sea water to come and go from East Bay, increasing salinity and helping marine life.

The peninsula at one time had robust agriculture and ranching operations and for a spell was known as the state's watermelon capital. The peninsula's population, only 500 in the late 1800s, soared to 4,000 by the 1990s.

The peninsula also began thriving as a destination for vacationers and those with weekend homes, with recreational activities including swimming, sunbathing, fishing, hunting, bird watching and shell hunting.

 

HOW SWEDE IT IS

For those wanting a week's vacation at the beach or just a long weekend, a good place to start looking is Swede's Beach Properties, which has a stronghold on the peninsula's real estate market.

Swede's has rental properties large and small, close to the beach or on the bay, from one end of the peninsula to the other. Just visit swedesrealestate.com to check out the selection.

Bolivar rental property ranks among the most affordable along the Texas Gulf Coast.

The peninsula is only a four- to five-hour drive down U.S. Highway 69 from Tyler and makes for a great long-weekend getaway, particularly around a holiday such as Memorial Day or Labor Day.

Check in at 11 a.m. Friday and check out at 4 p.m. Monday to get the full experience.

Driving is allowed on Bolivar beaches, and most communities provide vehicular access through the dunes to get there.

A parking pass is only $10 and can be obtained from several locations. But visitors also can just park on the beach, and someone on a golf cart will find you and happily sell you a pass if you don't have one. The passes are good for a year.

The quality of beach combing, kite flying, surf fishing, boogie boarding and other forms of recreation can change daily. If the surf is flat and there is green water to the beach, leave the boogie boards at the house and grab a pole and bait for some surf fishing for tasty trout.

Of course, it's never a bad time to build a sand castle or go for a long walk on the beach.

Seaweed, crowded beaches and the occasional jellyfish scourge can sour the proceedings, but just hanging out on the beach house deck with a good book and a view of the Gulf can nurture the soul.

 

BOLIVAR BUSINESS

Bolivar Peninsula has plenty of dining and recreational options.

Crystal Beach has a golf course. For non-golfers, it can be fun to just rent a golf cart and cruise up and down the beach.

The peninsula also has a number of great dining options. Guideaux's Bayside Grille has excellent pizza and other menus items, but be prepared to wait awhile because the restaurant is popular and can be busy.

Stingaree Restaurant and Marina has been around for ages and offers great fresh seafood to go along with its amazing views.

No trip to Bolivar would be complete without a trip to The Big Store, a peninsula icon in Crystal Beach that serves as grocery store, thrift shop, bait and tackle shop and just about everything else.

If vacationers don't feel like bringing coolers and bags full of food to their rental homes, they can get just about everything they need right here.

Another fun excursion is driving down Highway 87 west and taking the ferry over to Galveston.

The free ferry ride offers a great view of Galveston Bay and the Galveston port, and it's not uncommon to see bottlenose dolphins frolicking near the ferry. Just make sure to check the ferry's website for wait times, which can be hours and hours on busy weekends.

And a word of warning for those coming back from Galveston Island: Be sure to stay in the left lane in the ferry line, no matter how long it looks.

If you try to end-run the line and cut it down the road, Galveston's finest likely will be there in force to give you a citation.

During our Memorial Day trip down there, there were so many police catching cutters in the ferry line that it looked like the response to a massive crime scene, with one motorist after another being pulled over.

And while the ticket doesn't go on one's record, the whopping $350 fine for the citation can put a clam in the vacation experience.

Ain't nobody got time for that.

 

 

 

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