As Legislature Mulls State Parks' Closure, Would-Be Sites Languish For Decades

PaloPintoMountainsStatePark.jpg
City of Strawn
The budget ax brought down by the state legislature in 2011 gouged a huge chunk from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, which lost more than a fifth of its funding. The result was layoffs and a reduction in staffing and hours of operation at a number of state parks.

The initial spending proposals unveiled this year by legislators would cut a bit deeper, and this this time, it wouldn't just be parks' hours that would be reduced. As many as 20 would be forced to close outright, though which to put on the chopping block has not yet been decided.

But while the legislature debates whether to further gut the state parks system, the Houston Chronicle highlights another byproduct of chronic underfunding: parks that never open.

For 30 years, the state parks department has owned 1,700 acres of diverse wilderness about 45 minutes east of downtown Houston. It stretches from the highest hill on the Texas coastal plain down to a pristine, white sandy beach on the Trinity River.

Yet the public never has had access to this indigenous gem - Davis Hill State Park, named after Gen. James Davis, a Texas Revolutionary hero who once had a plantation home atop the 261-foot hill.

This park has sat idle without the state making a single plan for developing it since the land was acquired in 1983.

But it is not alone. It is the oldest of four state parks, covering nearly 48,000 acres, for which no money has been set aside for development. All remain closed to the public.

Along with Davis Hill, there's the 38,000-square-foot Chinati Mountain State Natural Area near Presidio in West Texas; the Kronkosky State Natural Area, covering 3,700 acres in the Texas Hill Country; and, about 70 miles outside of Fort Worth, the 3,885-acre Palo Pinto Mountains State Park.

The latter was purchased by the state only two years ago with $8 million from the sale of Eagle Mountain Lake State Park in Tarrant County, which means it has sat idle for a much briefer period than Davis Hill (30 years) and Chanati Mountain (18 years). But factor in the 28 years TPWD held the land at Eagle Mountain Lake without ever funding its development (it was purchased with the help of local governments and turned into a regional park), and you doubt it will ever be developed.

For now, Palo Pinto Mountains State Park remains closed to the public. It has a single employee, Park Superintendent John Ferguson, who told a local news site the he's not optimistic the legislature will cough up any cash for development in the immediate future.

When it is developed, Ferguson expects it will bring 100,000 annual visitors. The people of Strawn, Texas, population 653, are waiting.


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11 comments
garlandsucks
garlandsucks

Just hope Tyler state park isnt on any chopping blocks

James080
James080

As Tim and William point out, the legislature pulled yet another bait and switch on Texans with the surcharge tax on sporting goods. The tax was originally dedicated to building and maintaining our state parks.

But Texas politicians are, if nothing else, consistent liars, so every year they take the tax money dedicated to our parks and pour it into the general fund to use as they see fit, not as was pledged when the new tax was foisted on us.

This is why I am ambivalent about raising taxes to try to control the federal deficit. I know it's necessary financially, but politicians can not be trusted to use new "revenue" to cut the deficit instead of redistributing it to their favorite constituents, causes, contributors and supporters.

Tim.Covington
Tim.Covington

One of the saddest things about this is that there is a tax on outdoor goods sold in Texas that is supposed to fund the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. However, TPWD has never seen 100% of the money raised by this tax.

Gangy
Gangy

There are probably state level elected officials and appointees who have the same kinds of plans for those parklands as do some City of Dallas officials:  oil and gas fracking sites, pipelines, and compressor plants.  If they don't fund those parks, and they are locked up to prevent public use, it's a lot easier to argue that "revenue" from turning these lands over to the oil and gas industry would be more valuable to Texas than parkland.  Fasten your seat belts!

wmreed1
wmreed1

Weak, you foregot to mention that the Sporting Goods tax levied by Wal-Mart has been hijacked by the Leg for the general fund since Ann Richards days. There is a move in this session to do something about this illegal diversion. It ain't over.

andy427
andy427

At  38,000-square-foot,  Chinati Mountain State Natural Area would be less than an acre. Are you sure about that unit?

roo_ster
roo_ster

Perhaps the state ought to consider selling the land.  I bet a privately run park/resort would be able to support itself,  like they do other places.

choderus
choderus

@James080  I knew about this tax & theft but until a recent DMN article, I never realized how much theft was going on:  "Rep. Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio, has filed legislation to rededicate sporting goods sales taxes to the parks and wildlife agency. Two years ago, the Legislature gave $59.8 million of that money to the department out of nearly $250 million possible."

Less than $60 million out of nearly $250 million is actually getting to the parks!  And they have reduced the parks employees to begging the public for more money.  THIEVES!!!

Texas State Parks may face closure in proposed budget cuts

PersistentID2345
PersistentID2345

@andy427Maybe they are referring to the Chinati Molehill State Natural Area.

scottindallas
scottindallas topcommenter

@roo_ster often these are aquiered with deed restrictions.  What we should be talking about is why is it so expensive to open a park?  Open it essentially as is, and develop it incrementally.  Call it a provisional park or something to indicate that the facilities aren't up to the industrial parking lot standards of most TX parks.  Some of us might prefer that to the cubicle version of camping they offer in their fully developed parks. 

The private models are a great example of how a park can be run without the crazy and destructive and distracting amenities they offer.  Poor Hamilton's Pool sure ain't what it used to be. 

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