Fight to keep Fairfield Lake State Park open is alive and well

Texas lawmakers aren't taking proposal to convert park to gated community lying down

Chamberlain2007 | CC-BY-SA-4.0
Fairfield Lake State Park

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Last week, Fairfield Lake State Park temporarily re-opened its gates to the public. While seen by some as a last hurrah to enjoy this gem of the state parks system, the fight to keep the park open forever is alive and well. 

Fairfield Lake State Park is about halfway between Houston and Dallas off I-45. It’s a popular fishing spot, offers swimming and kayaking and 15 miles of trails for hiking, biking and horse riding. There have been about 250 species of birds recorded — including the bald eagle – at the park.

The state of Texas has leased the land where the park sits for almost 50 years from Irving-based power company Vistra, which decided in 2018 to sell the land. Texas Parks and Wildlife couldn’t afford to buy the whole property and Vistra turned down their offer to buy just the park land. 

Vistra instead reached a contract to sell the land to Todd Interests, a Dallas real estate company that, according to Parks and Wildlife, wants to convert the park into a golf course and gated community and ship water from the lake to the Dallas-Fort Worth area. 

Thanks to the passage of Prop 5 in 2019, which guarantees sales taxes on sporting goods go to fund our state parks, the department now has the money to buy the whole property. Parks and Wildlife Commission Chairman Arch “Beaver” Aplin offered to pay Todd Interests a 6% real estate fee to buy his interest so they could then buy the property from Vistra. Unfortunately, Todd turned him down.

In February, Parks and Wildlife got an eviction notice, telling the state it has 120 days to pack up and leave. To see this happen on the 100-year anniversary of our state park system is a tragedy. The park has been open to the public for almost 50 years, and the state has invested $72 million in improvements.

Thankfully, Parks and Wildlife and their allies in the Legislature aren’t taking this lying down. In fact, state Rep. Angelia Orr and Sen. Charles Schwertner have filed bills to take the extraordinary step of using eminent domain to require Todd Interests to sell the land at a fair price to the state and keep the state park open. 

Lawmakers have other ways to bring Todd Interests to the negotiating table too, including clawing back the right to use the water in the lake.

Unfortunately, this is not an isolated problem. Texas already ranks 35th in the nation for state park acreage per capita and Texans are often turned away from state parks when they hit capacity. And another of our parks, Lake Colorado City State Park, is owned by Vistra and at risk of suffering a similar fate.

We can’t let this stand. Texas desperately needs more state parks, not fewer. The Texas Legislature needs to do what it takes to keep the park open. 

Then let’s heed Gov. Greg Abbott’s recent call to expand the state parks system. With an almost $33 billion budget surplus this year, the state has the resources to acquire more land for state parks, protect wildlife habitat and create more opportunities for our kids to run free in the woods and see the stars at night. A recent poll by Texas 2036 found that 73% of Texans support using $1 billion of the surplus to do just that. 

Let’s make 2023 one for the history books. Not an ignoble story where future school children rely on pictures in textbooks to see what Texas’ amazing parks and natural areas used to look like, but an inspiring story of how Texans came together to save and expand our state parks for our future. 

Staff | Used by permission
Staff | Used by permission
Staff | Used by permission
Staff | Used by permission

Luke Metzger

Executive Director, Environment Texas

As the executive director of Environment Texas, Luke is a leading voice in the state for clean air, clean water, clean energy and open space. Luke has led successful campaigns to win permanent protection for the Christmas Mountains of Big Bend; to compel Exxon, Shell and Chevron Phillips to cut air pollution at three Texas refineries and chemical plants; and to boost funding for water conservation, renewable energy and state parks. The San Antonio Current has called Luke "long one of the most energetic and dedicated defenders of environmental issues in the state." He has been named one of the "Top Lobbyists for Causes" by Capitol Inside, received the President's Award from the Texas Recreation and Parks Society for his work to protect Texas parks, and was chosen for the inaugural class of "Next Generation Fellows" by the Robert S. Strauss Center for International Security and Law at UT Austin. Luke, his wife, son and daughters are working to visit every state park in Texas.

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