Determined residents making a comeback on Bolivar Peninsula

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Five years ago it would be hard to imagine what the Bolivar Peninsula would look like in 2013. Hurricane Ike devastated the peninsula and essentially wiped the communities of Gilchrist and Caplen off the map.

In the initial year after the storm, the talk was more about surviving than recovery. Slowly, some argue too slowly at times, the Bolivar Peninsula and its communities of Port Bolivar, Crystal Beach, Caplen, Gilchrist and High Island have indeed enjoyed a comeback.

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Bolivar bouncing back after Hurricane Ike

BOLIVAR PENINUSULA, Texas — One month away from the five-year anniversary of Hurricane Ike, the Bolivar Peninsula has rebounded with 40 square miles of mostly pastel new construction.

Meanwhile residents and summer visitors who long for the good old days of inexpensive fish camps and a patchwork of mobile homes are fighting to keep the peninsula affordable to everyone.

“Oh it’s paradise. That’s what I like about it,” said Candy Gilbert, seated on a bench in front of Cap’n Jacks Bait and Tackle in Gilchrist next to Rollover Pass.

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Bolivar: A revival after the storm

Brightly painted new beach homes fill the blocks four years after Hurricane Ike devasted the area on the Bolivar Peninsula, Saturday, April 21, 2012. Tammy McKinley/The Enterprise Photo: TAMMY MCKINLEY

Brightly painted new beach homes fill the blocks four years after Hurricane Ike devasted the area on the Bolivar Peninsula, Saturday, April 21, 2012. Tammy McKinley/The Enterprise Photo: TAMMY MCKINLEY

Brightly painted turquoise and neon green homes visibly clash with the tanned sandy beachfront. The spiced smell of lumber competes with the salty air, and beyond the thundering ocean breeze, drilling and hammering clamor from a symphony of power tools.

These contradictions exist all along Bolivar Peninsula, as larger and more expensive homes are shooting up along the beachfront, catering to an older and financially better-off clientele.

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Bolivar Peninsula is coming back in a different form

The pre Hurricane Ike Bolivar Peninsula was your extra, older stuff, being transported to a beach cabin your grandpa may have built in the '50s that might get used once or twice a year. But after Hurricane Ike rolled in five years ago, washing away much of the beach community's rustic charm, not much has been the same since. The new emerging Bolivar is slick and spruced up with upscale beach houses in pastel colors. People still remember the old Mecom's Pier and other places that no longer exist that now are being replaced with RV grounds, more eating establishments, and new towering beach front homes. Dave Ryan/The Enterprise Photo: Dave Ryan

The pre Hurricane Ike Bolivar Peninsula was your extra, older stuff, being transported to a beach cabin your grandpa may have built in the ’50s that might get used once or twice a year. But after Hurricane Ike rolled in five years ago, washing away much of the beach community’s rustic charm, not much has been the same since. The new emerging Bolivar is slick and spruced up with upscale beach houses in pastel colors. People still remember the old Mecom’s Pier and other places that no longer exist that now are being replaced with RV grounds, more eating establishments, and new towering beach front homes. Dave Ryan/The Enterprise Photo: Dave Ryan

When Hurricane Ike’s formidable storm surge rolled over the Bolivar Peninsula on Sept. 13, 2008, washing away hundreds of houses and a number of longtime businesses, it changed more than the landscape – it permanently altered a way of life.

Old Bolivar was rustic beach cabins – often built by grandfathers and uncles on their days off – furnished with second-hand sofas and late-model appliances.

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Texas Highway 87

Most visitors to High Island head for the four wooded Houston Audubon Society bird sanctuaries that are virtually synonymous with this small community on the upper coast. But just as irresistible is the area’s deserted seashore, so I took a beach drive, following the sandy tracks that parallel what’s left of the twenty-mile stretch of Texas Highway 87 that once ran east of High Island.

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Ike changed Bolivar Peninsula forever

Jimmy Wiggins of Acadian Builders works last week on a new home under construction as newly built homes can be seen in the background in Crystal Beach, as the Bolivar Peninsula is experiencing a comeback

Jimmy Wiggins of Acadian Builders works last week on a new home under construction as newly built homes can be seen in the background in Crystal Beach, as the Bolivar Peninsula is experiencing a comeback

CRYSTAL BEACH – In a span of hours on Sept. 13, 2008, communities that had stood for almost 100 years on the Bolivar Peninsula were nearly wiped off the map by a furious storm named Ike.

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