After turning over "every rock within 100 miles of Fort Worth," the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has chosen a 3,300-acre tract near Strawn for a new regional state park.
The scenic site, about 80 miles west of downtown Fort Worth, offers "extraordinary conservation and recreation potential," Carter Smith, executive director of the agency, said Thursday.
Money for the park comes from the $9.2 million the agency netted from the sale of the Eagle Mountain Lake State Park property in 2007. The Tarrant Regional Water District bought the 400-acre property and has since turned it into a park.
State officials promised to use the proceeds from the sale to develop a large regional park near Fort Worth.
Parks and wildlife officials will ask the Texas Wildlife Commission to approve the purchase at its meeting next week in Austin, Smith said.
"Timing is everything. We had a very narrow window of opportunity," Smith said, noting that the Legislature approved the funds to be spent this fiscal year and that his agency just secured approval for spending it last week.
"This project has been a long time coming. For the last four years, along with our partners at the Nature Conservancy, we have literally looked at dozens and dozens of opportunities for a potential new state park site," Smith said.
"We're delighted that this site offers such a unique opportunity to fulfill the promise that we made to Fort Worth," he said. "We wanted to find something that had pretty scenery and offered varied recreation opportunities ranging from camping and kayaking to fishing and hiking and bird-watching."
The ranchland property in the Palo Pinto Mountains would be purchased from three landowners and the city of Strawn, which has a municipal reservoir and tiny park on the land, Smith said. He would not identify the private property owners.
The site includes about 2 miles of Palo Pinto Creek frontage as well as Tucker Lake, an 81-acre reservoir fed by Russell Creek.
Strawn officials are excited about the plan.
"It's going to be a big boost for our little economy. Being halfway between Abilene and Fort Worth, we hope to get visitors from both directions," Mayor Carl Frazier said.
Finis Butler, economic development director for Strawn, said the property "is a beautiful spot. It's going to be a wonderful thing. The parks people said it's their best project in 25 years."
The agency is in discussions with the city about a partnership to help fold the lake and municipal park into the state park site, Smith said. The city would retain ownership of the lake and the parks department would restrict use to nonmotorized boats.
DeWayne Quertermous, conservation chairman of the Fort Worth Sierra Club, said the property is convenient to Interstate 20.
"It's pretty scenic and it doesn't look like it has been overgrazed," said Quertermous, who said the location is "farther out than many people would like."
The potential park is about 20 miles south of Possum Kingdom Lake State Park, but Smith said it would offer a different type of outdoor experience.
"Possum Kingdom is centered around activities on the lake. This is different in terms of topography and recreational opportunities. We think it will complement our existing parks in North Texas," he said.
Smith said Jeff Francell and David Bezanson of the Texas chapter of the Nature Conservancy "scoured the countryside," in the search for the park.
The Nature Conservancy has the properties under contract and will hold them until the state is ready to close the deal in October, said Francell, the group's director of land protection in Texas.
"I think what we've got is a phenomenal property. It has everything we were looking for -- it's rugged, it's remote and has a significant lake feature and Palo Pinto Creek," Francell said.
"I think the rugged hills are the main attraction. It has some steep canyons and valleys with creeks. It's wild country; we saw bald eagles on the lake," he said.
After the purchase, full development of the park will take years, Smith said.
"For the foreseeable future we don't have funding to engage in park development. But this tract lends itself well to passive stewardship and low-impact recreation. In the not-to-terribly-distant future we are going to look at things to allow some limited public access," he said.
The state has acquired additions to state parks in recent years but the new park would be the first stand-alone site added since 1993 when Government Canyon State Natural Area near San Antonio was purchased, Smith said.
"It's not every day that we have a chance to create a new state park in Texas. We're excited about the size of this park, at 3,300 acres there's room for solitude and exploration,'' he said. "We see this as an investment in generations to come."
Steve Campbell, 817-390-7981