Palo Pinto Mountains State Park, the newest jewel in the Texas state park system, is a beautiful 4,000-acre site with diverse and abundant plants and wildlife nestled in the Western Cross Timbers eco-region of North Central Texas near Strawn, 80 miles west of Fort Worth.
It will provide a wonderful setting for hiking, camping, fishing and exploring. And because it is only a little more than an hour from Fort Worth, it will be a simple day trip for thousands of Metroplex residents.
Unfortunately, the Palo Pinto Mountains State Park is presently not open to the public. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department must have state funding to finish development of the park and open it for full-time use.
In 2006, a coalition of residents, corporations, private foundations and government institutions in Tarrant County made a commitment to work with the state and raise nearly $10 million to buy Eagle Mountain State Park, freeing Parks and Wildlife to use the proceeds to purchase a new and larger park site that would be reasonably close to Fort Worth.
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In 2011, a beautiful plot of land became available, and the vision for Palo Pinto Mountains State Park was born.
After the purchase of the land, the remaining funds were used to develop a design and engineering plan — crafted with public input and feedback — to prepare it for public use as a state park.
But the Legislature needs to appropriate funds to complete the work necessary to ensure a user-friendly and safe experience while protecting the park habitat.
Until the park is funded, Texas families and youth will not be able to enjoy horseback riding, hiking, fishing, camping and stargazing that Palo Pinto will offer.
Importantly, the local region — as well as the state — will miss the tax dollars that will come from the economic impact that state park visitors will bring to the area.
The funds to complete Palo Pinto Mountains State Park should be in the state budget.
In 2015, lawmakers overwhelmingly passed, and Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law, House Bill 158, which, going forward, dedicated 94 percent of the sales taxes paid on sporting goods to be used only for state and local parks.
If lawmakers appropriate that 94 percent to the Texas Parks and Wildlife parks budget this year, the $25 million necessary for Palo Pinto Mountains State Park will be available.
Although the session is nearly to the midway point, the Legislature has not yet appropriated the funds as contemplated by state law.
The people of this community rose to the challenge of bringing a new state park to the region. Together, they have put time, money and resources on the table in collaboration and partnership with the state.
We hope the Legislature will agree it is time to appropriate funds to build the infrastructure, trails, campgrounds and facilities to bring this park to life.
Both the House and Senate budgets presently short the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department by roughly $91 million in funding (House $92.5 million, Senate $90.4 million).
The money has already been collected as part of the sporting goods sales tax. Lawmakers just need to appropriate it as intended by law.
Separately, the Parks and Wildlife Department has included in its proposed budget certain so-called exceptional items.
It has requested $86.8 million in the Senate and $76.5 million in the House for funding deferred maintenance and capital construction, which includes the money to complete the development of Palo Pinto Mountains State Park.
Public opinion polls reflect that 84 percent of us see parks as “essential” to healthy, active lifestyles for Texans, and 84 percent acknowledge the need for protecting natural areas.
We know our legislators face challenges with this year’s budget.
But we hope our representatives will not let those challenges prevent funding parks and following through on the partnership formed with Fort Worth and Tarrant County nearly 10 years ago.
Ralph Duggins is a partner with the Fort Worth and Dallas law firm Cantey Hanger LLP and vice-chairman of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission. Marty Leonard is a board member of both the Tarrant Regional Water District and Fort Worth Nature Center.