New state park west of Fort Worth awaits funding

08/03/2014 7:38 PM

08/03/2014 7:38 PM

Residents in Strawn are hoping the long-planned Palo Pinto Mountains State Park will eventually provide a boost to the small town’s economy.

Outdoor enthusiasts, meanwhile, are looking forward to the day they’ll have a new state park about an hour west of Fort Worth.

Both groups, however, will likely have to wait a few years for the 4,390-acre park to open its gates.

A public hearing is scheduled for Thursday to discuss where to locate trails and place bathhouses, but there is no clear timeline for the park, which straddles Palo Pinto and Stephens counties, to be completed. Strawn’s website says the tentative date for an opening is 2018.

“A lot of that is going to depend on the funding allocated to Parks and Wildlife to build a park,” said Chris Beckcom, a Texas Parks and Wildlife park planner. “We can do the planning, but to fund the development — we’re talking millions of dollars.”

The meeting in Strawn will provide the first look at the proposed facilities and recreational uses for the park. The state agency will also take feedback about its plans for the park.

The park includes a 90-acre lake and creeks surrounded by a variety of trees, including live oaks, post oaks, blackjack oaks, mesquite and cedar elms. Because of the changes in elevation and dense terrain, building hiking and biking trails through parts of the park will be a challenge.

And even when the park funding is in place, it would likely be at least three years before it would open to the public.

For Strawn, a town of about 800 people that is best known for its six-man football team and chicken-fried steaks at Mary’s Cafe, learning about the funding of parks has been an education.

The state purchased the land in 2007 with the proceeds from the sale of Eagle Mountain State Park, near Fort Worth. More land has been added since that initial purchase.

“When they announced the park, everybody magically thought it would be open in two years,” said Danny Miller, Strawn’s city secretary. “Over the last two years, everybody has learned it would take time.”

Strawn and interested groups will be watching the 2015 legislative session closely. Miller said local residents and groups interested in using the new park will be writing letters and hopefully visiting Austin to win support for the park.

“The hope is they’ll get the funding in this next budget cycle that would be released to Parks and Wildlife in September 2015,” Miller said. “Everybody is crossing their fingers.”

To help make the park more attractive, Strawn has already given Texas Parks and Wildlife access to Tucker Lake, a city-owned reservoir that will provide some water recreation in an area that has been hit hard by drought.

Strawn also got a guarantee that the location of park facilities would route visitors through Strawn, hopefully providing a boost to the economy.

“This is very important to us,” Miller said. “We were a railroad town and then a coal mining town, but since the ’30s we haven’t been either of those things. The town has just been getting smaller and smaller.”

But the park is also designed to serve the Dallas-Fort Worth area. It is about halfway between Fort Worth and Abilene, and the park entrance will be just a few miles off of Interstate 20.

“The sooner we can finish our planning studies and make it available to the public, the better,” said Fort Worth attorney Ralph Duggins, vice chairman of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission.

But Duggins acknowledged that state park funding is “an ongoing challenge” for Texas Parks and Wildlife.

“I think the public is generally very supportive of funding for parks, but every two years we have to go through the appropriations process and do what we can to fund our park operations,” Duggins said.

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