Politics & Government

Palo Pinto Mountains State Park could benefit from amendment. It needs donations first

A constitutional amendment on the Nov. 5 ballot will ensure parks like the fledgling Palo Pinto Mountains State Park west of Fort Worth receive adequate funding into the future, say proponents like George Bristol, a Fort Worth businessman.

Proposition 5 ensures revenue from the existing state sales tax on sporting goods will go to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and the Texas Historical Commission to protect Texas’ natural areas, water quality, and history.

In 1993 the Texas Legislature approved allocating sales tax from sporting goods to state parks and the Texas Historical Commission. The first allocation of about $64 million was made in 1996, but since 2007 some money has gone to the general fund.

The sporting goods tax is not a new or separate tax.

The constitutional amendment would mean Texas parks could get more than $300 million a year, a needed boost since the park system has significant deferred maintenance; 94% would go to parks, while 6% would go to the Texas Historical Commission. The tax generated an estimated $342.1 million this year.

“Our children need a place to go out and enjoy nature just as much as the rancher needs to go out on his land,” said Bristol, a former chairman of the Texas State Parks Advisory Committee and an advocate for Palo Pinto Mountains State Park.

Texas parks officials said steady, reliable funding is needed to plan for projects and use resources efficiently.

Parks in Texas are in great need, said Susan Houston, Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation executive director. The foundation is responsible for raising private money to support state parks.

Most of the state parks are aging quickly. About 80% are more than 30 years old. The parks foundation says 50 playgrounds and about 300 restrooms are in critical need to be replaced or removed.

Those aging parks are a still major economic driver. Texas parks generated more than $891 million in sales and had a $240 million impact in income for Texas residents, according to a 2018 study. Parks supported more than 6,000 jobs in Texas.

“Making sure our parks are in good condition not only ensures a quality experience for park visitors, but also maintains an important economic asset for local communities,” Houston said in a statement.

Palo Pinto

Any state park is eligible to receive allocations of the tax, including Palo Pinto Mountains State Park once it opens, said parks department spokeswoman Stephanie Garcia. But first it needs to secure more funding.

In 2011, a site near Strawn was selected to become the 4,400-acre Palo Mountains State Park. It will serve Tarrant County and the western half of the Metroplex and has been called “the Metroplex’s playground.”

The area features 1,400-foot ridgelines, creeks and hardwood forests.

While a small portion around Tucker Lake has been open to the public, most of the park is undeveloped.

After years without funding, the state Legislature this past session allocated $12.5 million for Palo Pinto Mountains State Park. But it needs another $10 million in private donations to shore up funding.

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation, which was founded in 1991 and raises money to help support the state park system, will seek donations for Palo Pinto Mountains.

The Texas Department of Transportation has also chipped in. About $5 million was set aside for January 2020 to build roads and a camping loop.

Bristol said he’s hopeful work can begin early, before the full $10 million in donations is raised.

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Luke Ranker covers the intersection of people and government focused on Fort Worth and Tarrant County. He came to Texas from the plains of Kansas, where he wrote about a lot, including government, crime and courts in Topeka. He survived a single winter in Pennsylvania as a breaking news reporter. He can be reached at 817-390-7747 or lranker@star-telegram.com.
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