Texas Senate committee approves historic state parks funding bill

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AUSTIN, Texas– The state Senate Water, Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee on Thursday voted unanimously in support of two bills creating a Centennial Parks Conservation Fund. This new entity would invest at least $500 million to buy more land for the state parks system. The legislation, SB 1684 and SJR 74 (Parker), would establish the fund and amend the state constitution to authorize it. SB 1 (the Senate version of the state budget) appropriates $500 million for state parkland acquisition, contingent on passage of these bills.

According to a study by Texas Tech University, the state needs to add more than one million acres of state parks by 2030 to keep up with public demand. A 2023 poll by Texas 2036 found that 73% of Texans, including majorities of Republicans, Democrats and Independents, support investing $1 billion to create new — and expand existing — state parks.

In response, Environment Texas Executive Director Luke Metzger, who testified in favor of the bill in committee Thursday morning, issued the following statement:

“This historic legislation would create a new golden age for our state parks. 2023 marks the centennial of the Texas state parks system and we have a lot to celebrate. What a great birthday present to give all Texans for the state parks system’s 100th.

“From Big Bend Ranch to Brazos Bend, Texas’ state parks system protects some of our most beautiful places and waterways and provides a home for iconic creatures including ocelots, horned lizards and sea turtles. During the pandemic, many of us flocked to our state parks for fresh air and exercise. Every year, millions of Texans go camping, hiking, boating, climbing, fishing and hunting there. 

“But as the state’s population rapidly grows, Texas families too often are turned away when our state parks hit capacity. The supply of state parks hasn’t kept up with the demand. With the possible loss of Fairfield Lake State Park, the situation will only worsen. We owe it to future generations to make sure they have places to go where the stars at night are big and bright.”