FORT WORTH -- A long-promised state park near Fort Worth is one of the survivors of the bruising budget battle waged at the Texas Capitol this year.
Carter Smith, executive director of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, said the more than $9 million the state got from selling undeveloped parkland at Eagle Mountain Lake in 2007 has been preserved by lawmakers for the acquisition of a 2,500- to 3,000-acre state park at an undisclosed location.
"The funds that were expected by the donors and community to be used for the acquisition of a replacement park have been protected for future use," Smith said. "They haven't been swept into the general revenue fund and lost -- that's an important outcome of the session.
"We intend to acquire a site that would make the people of Fort Worth proud," he said. "We think if we have the right site, that is going to be used not only by the people of the area but by others from all over the state."
Smith credited Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, with preserving the money and keeping the regional park push afloat.
"Rep. Geren has been a long-standing proponent of this. He's been a close partner in working with us to ensure that we fulfill our promise and pledge," Smith said.
The effort to develop a regional state park started in 2007, when the Tarrant Regional Water District, with the aid of a six-month fundraising campaign led by Geren, bought 400 acres on the shores of Eagle Mountain Lake from the state for $9.3 million and developed the land as a local park.
The state bought the property in 1980 in the hope of turning it into a park. But a lack of funding, along with a philosophical change in the parks department toward developing bigger regional parks, left the land unused.
Developers wanted to buy the property and build high-end homes on the scenic bluffs. But after a public outcry, Gov. Rick Perry promised to sell it to local officials for a park and use the money to fund a regional park.
Geren said keeping both parks alive represents a victory in a tight budget climate.
Right now, we're having trouble keeping our state parks open, and it's not a great time to be adding to the inventory," he said Thursday. "Now we'll have the money when the time is right and the right property is available.
"Eagle Mountain Park is a wonderful place. We're really happy we've been able to protect it and to preserve this money for a new park," he said.
Smith said several contiguous parcels being considered for purchase could become an "extraordinary park." He would not reveal their location.
"I can tell you it's something that offers bountiful and diverse recreational opportunities within a close driving distance of downtown Fort Worth," Smith said.
Steve Campbell, 817-390-7981