Sitting along the shores of Joe Pool Lake, Cedar Hill State Park is an urban oasis.
With 1,900 acres that includes rolling terrain similar to the Hill Country, historic farm buildings, bike trails and shoreline access, this state park is a short drive for much of the Metroplex.
For visitors who use one of the park’s 350 campsites, attractions such as Arlington’s AT&T Stadium and Six Flags over Texas are just 20 minutes away. Sundance Square in downtown Fort Worth and The Sixth Floor Museum in downtown Dallas are just 30 minutes away. More than a quarter-million people visited last fiscal year.
But Cedar Hill faces the same challenge as many of the state’s other 88 parks, natural areas and historic sites — it doesn’t have enough funding to keep up with repairs and maintenance.
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Three of the last four years, Cedar Hill has been hit by high water, damaging a swim beach, four restrooms and concrete erosion barriers along the shoreline. One section of the park is still closed.
Many of the dozen buildings from the historic Penn Farm, including a house that dates to 1859, also need repairs for decaying roof shingles.
About $16.1 million has been allocated for flood repairs, but others still need to be funded, including $1 million for the Penn Farm buildings and $2.2 million to upgrade damaged park roads and replace old restrooms.
“The longer you wait to maintain something — the worse it gets,” said George Bristol, founder of the Texas Coalition for Conservation and a former chairman of the State Parks Advisory Committee.
Other North Texas parks with deferred maintenance issues include Ray Roberts Lake State Park near Pilot Point, where there have also been flooding issues, and Possum Kingdom State Park south of Graham, where there are plans to replace the park store.
Southwest of Fort Worth at Dinosaur Valley State Park near Glen Rose, repairs are needed to the main pavilion and there are plans to replace the visitor center and park store while Fort Richardson State Park and Historic Site in Jacksboro needs a new water and wastewater system.
“We’ve asked for them in our budget request and we’re hopeful that legislators will try and find a way to put a dent in it,” said Fort Worth attorney Ralph Duggins, who is chairman of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission.
State parks have struggled with funding challenges each legislative session as they wait to see how much legislators appropriate.
“Sometimes it’s big — sometimes it’s almost zero,” Bristol said.
But state parks are sometimes filled to capacity with nearly 10 million visitors annually. A report released Thursday by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation shows parks generated $891 million in sales and accounted for 6,801 jobs, paying an average salary of $35,320 per year.
That is why there are two pieces of legislation, SB 526, filed by Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, and HB 1214, filed Rep. John Cyrier, R-Lockhart, that propose a constitutional amendment be placed on the ballot in November asking voters if all of the sporting goods sales tax should fund 95 state parks and 22 historical sites. More than 50 organizations have voiced support for the constitutional amendment.
The Legislature passed a law in 1993 with the intent of dedicating up to 94 percent of the sporting goods sales tax to state parks and historic sites but Texas Parks and Wildlife has received only about 40 percent of those funds. The sporting goods sales tax totaled $2.5 billion between 1993 and 2017 with only about $1 billion doled out to parks.
Bristol said the rest of the money is going into the state budget for various reasons.
“Because Texas is 95 to 96 percent privately owned, with 80 percent of our citizens living in urban areas, access to the outdoors and wildlife typically comes only through state parks,” Duggins said.
Texas Parks and Wildlife is asking for $12.5 million to help open Palo Pinto Mountains State Park 80 miles west of Fort Worth that is known as the “Metroplex’s playground.” If the park is funded, that money will be matched by private donations to finish construction.
“This is different than a generation ago when many people had grandparents with farms and ranches,” Duggins said. “That’s why we’ve got to add more property to allow people to get outdoors.”