The Texas Department of Transportation's rest stop and roadside picnic area along U.S. Highway 59, between Linden and Atlanta, is a pleasant and unusual stopping point.
Steve Austin, who works there, says he is always getting compliments about the unspoiled condition of the area and facilities.
The area is also safe. The park is supervised with on-site personnel 12 hours a day seven days a week by a contractor supervised by TxDOT's maintenance division in Austin.
The area was originally constructed with U.S. Highway 59 in 1940. The restrooms were added in 1980. It is now the only one remaining in the Atlanta District, according to Atlanta District Public Information Officer Marcus Sandifer.
"The rest areas on I-20 in Harrison County and I-30 in Bowie County were closed and demolished in the late 1990s when maintenance costs became too much for the state to justify," Sandifer said.
He noted there are rest areas at the travel information centers located on those interstates and in the same counties, which have picnic areas and restroom facilities. Each of the state's 80 safety rest areas feature restrooms that are open 24 hours daily. Most rest areas have attendants on duty 24 hours a day.
The remaining facilities, such as Cass County"s, have attendants on duty from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily.
Highway 59 across Cass County is 35.2 miles long. About halfway, 15 miles from the south and 20 miles from the north county line at the Sulphur River, one can slow down around a pleasant curve and drive into the rest area that is not far from the New Colony Baptist Church. It will be like a flowering oasis amid a busy highway.
Since each of the state's rest areas is decorated with a theme that pertains to the local area, the Cass County rest area has a tile mosaic of a log truck on its wall representing the forestry industry.
The Cass County rest area is unusual in that it is located on one side of the highway only. Traffic heading northward must pull to the center and cross southbound traffic to enter the park.
"That was determined because traffic was not so heavy on U.S. 59 at the time it was first constructed," Sandifer said.
The purpose of roadside parks throughout the state — and there are 80 of them — is to provide a place for weary travelers to rest.
"That prevents accidents and makes our highways safer," Sandifer said.
Cass County's rest area is not air-conditioned or heated but is open to the outside. Sandifer said there are no plans at this time to renovate before upgrading U.S. Highway 59 to the future Interstate 369. It is possible the rest area could be relocated or done away with completely according to how and where the new highway is constructed.
As for the historical marker at the comfort station, it was erected at the picnic area in 1971 and most likely placed at its present location when the new facilities were added. It was placed there by the Texas Historical Commission that oversees all historical markers in the state.
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Each safety rest area incorporates natural and historical features unique to its location, as well as native landscaping elements. Cass County's is overflowing with colorful flowers and plants.
The two maintenance employees, Steve Austin and Charles Green, said the public treats the rest stop in a respectful way. They recall hardly any unpleasant instances.
"I think that once the public sees someone is here at the park and is taking care of it, they don't get any ideas of messing it up," Austin said.
"We have a lot of people come out who just want to sit a while at the picnic tables and enjoy the surroundings. I think that's why it's called a park as much as a rest area by the people around here."