AUSTIN, Texas — Christmas came early this year to dozens of state parks throughout Texas, thanks to lawmakers and voters who gave a strong thumbs-up to more funding for parks. That’s good news for families planning a state park outing during the upcoming holiday season.
Already, many of the approximately 220 new state park employee positions have been filled, repairs of long-neglected facilities have begun or will soon begin, and days and hours of park operations are being extended. As a result of increased funding, park visitors will not only notice better maintained park facilities, but also will benefit from more interpretive programming, reopened campgrounds and trails, and better customer service.
The 80th Texas Legislature passed House Bills 1 and 12 that provide $25.6 million for park operations and the hiring of park staff during the 2008-09 biennium. Lawmakers also appropriated roughly $52 million in bonding authority to fund major state park repairs, sending the measure to voters for approval as required by law. On Nov. 6, voters approved that constitutional measure, Proposition 4, which allocates $25 million to dry-berth the Battleship Texas to ensure its long-term preservation and another $27 million for major infrastructure repairs throughout the eight state park regions.
“We are working diligently to uphold the confidence the legislators and voters have placed in Texas Parks and Wildlife to put our state parks in tip-top condition and to provide the best visitor experience of any state park system in the nation,” said Robert L. Cook, TPWD executive director. “Many of the repairs to parks may not be visible to the public, but they will guarantee that visitors have a safe and more enjoyable stay. Besides facilities upkeep, the increased funding also means enhanced opportunities for people to learn about our state’s rich natural and cultural heritage.”
Significant among improvements slated for the coming months are projects that will allow state parks that had either reduced hours or days of weekly operation or closed parts of the park to restore full public use.
Just a little more than $1 million in Prop 4 funds will be used to repair wastewater treatment and electric systems damaged in 2005 by Hurricane Rita to allow Sea Rim State Park near Sabine Pass to reopen sometime next year. The hiring of three full-time and eight hourly staff will enable the newest wing of the World Birding Center at Resaca de la Palma SP near Brownsville to open, tentatively set for spring 2008.
The Nails Creek Unit of Lake Somerville State Park at a future date will be restaffed and reopened for camping and trail use. Kickapoo Caverns State Park near Bracketville will be hiring four new employees which will result in the reopening of the Brackettville area park that has been open only for guided tours through prior arrangements. Additional park personnel will allow the Doctor’s Creek Unit of Cooper Lake State Park to return to full operations tentatively in January.
Increased funding levels for FY08 also means that four Panhandle and North Texas state parks — Caprock Canyons, Copper Breaks, Fort Richardson and Lake Colorado City — will not have to curtail operating hours this winter, but can remain open seven days a week.
A Texas State Park region-by-region breakdown of how additional funding will impact state park operations follows:
Region 1 (West Texas)
Balmorhea SP — $397,427 in Prop 4 funds to repair and replace failing roofs, trim, chimneys and repair damaged adobe exteriors of motel rooms built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the 1930s.
Big Bend Ranch SP — Boosting staff levels to allow the opening of 59 primitive campsites accessible by vehicle, the addition of equestrian campsites, hiking and biking trails, and enhanced services at the Bunk House and Big House group sites.
Davis Mountains SP — $618,725 in Prop 4 funds to repair two deteriorating CCC structures.
Kickapoo Caverns SP — 4-plus additional park staff to allow park to reopen to non-guided access.
Region 2 (South Texas)
Choke Canyon SP — $978,220 in Prop 4 funds to replace and repair roofs at Calliham and South Shore units of the park, $8,179 to purchase a new Grasshopper mower and more operational funds to enable the park to contract for refuse collection to free up staff for maintenance and repair projects.
Falcon SP — Minor repair will include re-roofing the maintenance building and buying materials to install new roofs on screened shelters.
Goliad SP — $67,451 in Prop 4 funds will pay for repairs and improvements to existing playground equipment to comply with Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards. Minor repair monies are being used to upgrade the dining hall, fix sidewalks and fencing, and install electricity in the trailer loop, and for other minor maintenance.
Goose Island SP — $248,805 in Prop 4 funds to repair and replace old electrical services and water lines at 43 Wooded Area Campground sites.
Lake Casa Blanca International SP — Hire additional office staff and replace three main water system gate valves in the camping area.
Lake Corpus Christi SP — $65,941 in Prop 4 funds to repair a collapsed, washed-out retaining wall, and minor repair monies for office renovation and the purchase of a new Grasshopper mower and other landscaping equipment.
Mustang Island SP — Increase in operating budget will allow the park to be connected to TPWD’s area-wide computing network, thus allowing more reliable internet connections to improve reservation capabilities. Additional staff will be hired as well.
Region 3 (North & North Central Texas)
Cedar Hill SP — $4.35 million in Prop 4 funds to replace electrical, water and wastewater systems in five camping loops, as well as bring the restrooms and headquarters into ADA compliance in the park that reigns as the state park system’s most-visited site.
Eisenhower SP — Addition of full-time office help will allow the park to extend weekend office hours.
Fort Boggy SP — Restoration of funding for a full-time administrative office manager will allow the park, starting in January, to be open five days instead of only three and the ability to offer walk-in tent camping for the first time.
Lake Mineral Wells SP — Work has begun on a $24,675 project to repair a flood-damaged section of the park trailway that leads to downtown Mineral Wells.
Lake Whitney SP — $480,858 in Prop 4 funds to renovate a restroom, reception hall and screened shelters to provide access to people with disabilities.
Region 4 (Southeast Texas)
Battleship Texas — $25 million in Prop 4 funds for long-term preservation of the Texas.
Lake Livingston — Hiring of a park interpreter to implement new programming to enhance visitor services.
Lake Texana SP — $666,182 in Prop 4 funds to repair and replace electrical and water systems at campsites in the Multi-Use Camping Area.
San Jacinto Battleground SHS — $435,750 in Prop 4 funds for major water/wastewater system repairs.
Sea Rim SP — $1.01 million in Prop 4 funds to repair storm-damaged infrastructure to get park re-opened in 2008.
Sheldon Lake SP — Hire an interpretive ranger to enhance programming and visitor services.
Region 5 (Piney Woods & Central Texas)
Bastrop SP — $3.67 million in Prop 4 funds to make major repairs to several historic CCC-constructed buildings, including the group barracks, the swimming pool bath house, and golf shop foundation and roof.
Buescher SP — $861,372 in Prop 4 funds to correct foundation problems threatening the walls and roof of the Recreation Hall built by the CCC during the Great Depression years.
Barrington Living History Farm — Hiring two living history interpreters to allow the farm in Washington, Texas to be open seven days a week starting Dec. 1, 2007.
Guadalupe River SP/Honey Creek SNA — Interpretive programs have been expanded and more are planned in 2008 thanks to the hiring of a resource specialist/interpreter/volunteer coordinator.
Huntsville SP — Additional staff hired will expand school and interpretive programs and greatly expand offerings at the State Park Store, Gator Junction, to generate revenue.
Lockhart SP — The swimming pool will be in full operation for the first time in two summers.
Nails Creek Unit/Lake Somerville — Additional staffing will allow the park to reopen the unit to camping and trail use.
Washington-on-the-Brazos SHS — An additional park interpreter will split time between this site and nearby Fanthorp SHS implementing new interpretive programming.
Region 6 (Panhandle Plains)
Abilene, Colorado City, Lake Brownwood, Possum Kingdom SPs — Each park will hire a peace officer-interpretive specialist to fulfill the dual role of providing more security and expanding interpretive programming options.
Caprock Canyons SP — Additional funding will allow the park to staff and operate the new Visitors Center/Park Store that opened in October
and to install new interpretive exhibits in early 2008.
Fort Richardson SP — A new manager trainee position is being funded.
Palo Duro Canyon SP — $454,662 in Prop 4 funds to conduct an engineering study to come up with alternative water supply options and to make renovations to the Sagebrush Camping Area and Chinaberry Day Use Area to provide access for people with disabilities. The park will purchase a new front-end loader and backhoe tractor to replace existing outdated equipment. A new manager-trainee position will be funded as well.
Region 7 (Hill Country)
Blanco SP, Colorado Bend SP, Hill Country SNA, Lost Maples SNA and South Llano River SP — Will be hiring interpretive rangers to enhance programming and the visitor experience.
Garner SP — $1.55 million in Prop 4 monies will go to renovate 17 cabins built in the 1930s by the CCC; to repair roof problems, broken doors and pealing paint on 22 screened shelters; and fix up and enclose old group shelters. The park will hire a new park ranger and peace officer, and replace three old restrooms.
Inks Lake SP — $450,285 in Prop 4 funds to repair and replace deteriorated electrical service and water lines at 65 campsites. Two restrooms are being replaced. A new, interpretive ranger and peace officer will be hired to expand programs and provide greater security.
Lost Maples SNA — $257,802 in Prop 4 monies to repair and replace old water lines at the park campsites. A combination peace officer/resource specialist position is being funded.
Region 8 (East Texas)
Cooper Lake SP/Doctors Creek Unit — Additional staffing will allow the unit to return to full operations by early 2008.
Daingerfield SP — $2 million in Prop 4 funds to repair deteriorating CCC structures, including Bass Lodge, the Boat House and Concession Building. A new peace officer/resource specialist position is being added.
Mission Tejas SP — $963,958 to renovate a park restroom and trail system, repair the historic Rice Family log home, re-roof and re-mortar the Spanish Mission building, and replace deteriorating pedestrian bridges along the trails.