You can’t count the many ways that state parks make life better here in Texas. They protect the clean water that we depend on. They provide a home for some of Texas’ most wondrous wildlife. The beautiful natural scenery of our parks provides a backdrop for some of the most amazing hikes you can imagine. And the breadth and range of those parks gives people all across Texas untold opportunities for fishing, swimming, camping and other recreational activities.
Unfortunately, our parks system is in a state of crisis. Rampant disrepair and staff shortages due to years of budget cuts hinder the parks’ ability to protect the resources they house. In addition, the Legislature has failed to appropriate funds to Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to invest for the future by acquiring new park lands.
With Texas’ population expected to double in the next few decades, demand will grow for access to parks and more of our treasured natural areas will be threatened by encroaching development. Polling done by Texas Tech University found that Texans “are becoming increasingly frustrated about the lack of access to lands to experience nature.” Already, urban and suburban development is encroaching on treasured natural landscapes.
The effects of population growth will be strongest in Texas’s largest cities. While the state of Texas maintains sizable parks in west Texas and other parts of the state, our metropolitan areas are notably underserved. While the state currently averages about 52 acres of parkland per 1000 people, in the cities it is far worse. The greater Houston area has only 40 acres, Austin 17.5, Dallas 15.9, and San Antonio 9.9.
TPWD has proposed the establishment of new, 5,000-acre parks near these major metro areas.
- Dallas/Fort Worth: TPWD is considering establish a park in Palo Pinto county (just west of Fort Worth) that would protect the threatened cross-timbers ecosystem
- Houston: TPWD has identified the gulf coast prairies, pine-oak forests and post oak savanna near Houston as critical for protection
- Austin/San Antonio: The Edwards Plateau, west of Austin and San Antonio, is a critical resource that is threatened with pollution from environmentally harmful development. South Texas plains and post oak savanna are also in need of protection near San Antonio.
- Rio Grande Valley: Among the least-served areas in the state, the Rio Grande Valley should protect South Texas plains.
This report examines these eco-regions and illustrates the importance of these natural areas for water quality, plants and wildlife, and recreation. It also covers the threats to each region, which are largely due to urban and suburban sprawl.
There is widespread public support for creating these new parks. 77% of Texans polled in a the Texas Tech study either strongly or moderately support “more Texas Parks and Wildlife funding to buy additional land for conservation of natural resources and outdoor recreation”.
In 2007, the Legislature should appropriate at least $15 million for a park land acquisition program. In the long-term, Texas will need significant funding to realize the Texas Tech goal of 55 acres of parks per 1,000. With land prices continuing to rise, it is imprudent to put off these investments any longer. State leaders
should explore all potential sources of funding, including raising or eliminating the cap on the sporting goods tax, creating a new real-estate transfer tax, or submitting a general bond measure to the voters of Texas for approval.