As workers made repairs this spring, The Tarpon Inn’s signature red wooden rockers already occupied their customary stations on the verandas. Vintage furnishings, like four-poster beds and claw-foot tubs, survived. “We had a lot of things we needed to work on anyway,” said Lee Roy Hoskins, the inn’s owner—a bittersweet refrain familiar among Port Aransas storm veterans.
A stone’s throw from The Tarpon Inn, Shorty’s—the town’s oldest bar—served customers their first post-Harvey beverages a week after the storm’s blast. Contractor Chris Jordan helped replace the roof and remove knee-deep debris; then he played bass guitar in a band for an impromptu reopening party made possible by a hot-wired portable generator.
“Everybody was in muddy boots and everybody was happy to see one another,” his girlfriend, Andrea Shaw, recalled. “The rest of the town was dark.”
In the months following the hurricane, Jordan and Shaw were among a handful of local businesspeople who moved into a seven-bedroom vacation rental because Harvey rendered their homes uninhabitable. The occupants of their so-called “Commune”—including Greg Villasana, owner of La Playa Mexican Grille; Linda Halioua, owner of Venetian Hot Plate; and Tiana Worsham and Vanessa Brundrett, owners of The Phoenix—sweated out their comebacks by day and prepared group dinners for one another in the evening. “If you were hanging out here, you were not going to go hungry,” Jordan said.
The preserve’s Leonabelle Turnbull Birding Center has reopened part of its boardwalk, though its elevated observation tower is inaccessible. From the walkway, a 7-foot alligator was clearly visible on a recent visit, sunning among the reeds during a warm afternoon.
Less fortunate was the inundated campus of The University of Texas Marine Science Institute, which is currently under reconstruction. One silver lining is that its onsite nonprofit, Amos Rehabilitation Keep (ARK), required minor repairs. By January, ARK was moving sea turtles and birds that it rescued before the storm back into the shelter. The institute has plans for limited public tours of its outdoor trails, including the ARK, in late fall.
In post-Harvey Port Aransas, familiar landmarks serve as barometers of recovery. IGA, the island’s bustling full-service grocery, is back to business as usual. On Alister Street, the massive open-jawed shark sculpture, a popular photo opportunity, escaped the storm’s wrath, though Destination Beach & Surf—the spacious shop that it promotes—was forced to rebuild, opening during spring break.
Port Aransas Police Chief Scott Burroughs, who is running his office out of a portable building, was among the initial wave of law enforcement officials to return after Harvey’s landfall. He encountered a daunting scene, but he said, “I knew it was going to be OK from the get-go—from day one—because of the nature of the people who live here.”
PORT ARANSAS TOURISM INFORMATION
Port Aransas/Mustang Island Chamber of Commerce & Tourism Bureau
Port Aransas Visitor Center
403 W. Cotter Ave.
Open Mon-Fri 9 a.m.-5 p.m.
The chamber updates its website frequently as businesses affected by the hurricane reopen.
The Port Aransas South Jetty newspaper also produces a quarterly visitor guide with the latest news on local tourism attractions.