Just off of Interstate 20, some 80 miles west of Fort Worth near the town of Strawn, is the newest state park in Texas, the Palo Pinto Mountains State Park.
Once fully developed, this 4,000-acre tract, rich in wildlife and botanical diversity, will join the more than 90 parks in the state system.
The land for Palo Pinto was purchased by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department in 2011. The park will draw visitors to camp, hike, stargaze, mountain bike, fish and ride horses.
As part of the department’s collaborative process, the public was invited to share its vision for Palo Pinto, ensuring that the park will be designed to maximize public use.
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The department has leveraged public feedback and crafted a draft development plan that will soon be publicly unveiled.
But ensuring we have proper funding to develop and run Palo Pinto State Park will be paramount to its success — and ultimately to whether or not the region can reap the benefits from this beautiful piece of land.
Over the last five years, state park visitation has increased nearly 10 percent. There were more than 8 million visits to our parks in 2013 alone, creating countless opportunities for Texas families to enjoy the great outdoors and participate in treasured pastimes such as fishing, hiking and swimming.
Parks also support our economy. A recent economic impact study by Texas A&M University professors demonstrated that our parks generated more than $774 million in sales and supported an estimated 5,871 jobs throughout the state in 2013.
State parks produce a return on investment of more than 2,500 percent in terms of economic impact.
In 2013, the state spent $74 million for state park operations, of which $44 million was recovered by earned revenues from operations.
This means that the state’s total net investment was roughly $30 million — the equivalent of about $1.15, or the cost of a candy bar, for each Texas resident.
A recent public opinion poll of active Texas voters commissioned by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation and the Texas State Park Advisory Committee showed overwhelming voter support of a strong, well-funded system of state parks.
According to the poll, 92 percent agree that public parks are especially important to families needing an affordable recreational outlet; 84 percent see parks as “essential” to healthy, active lifestyles for Texans; and 84 percent acknowledge the need for protecting natural areas.
Despite strong voter support, increased visitation and a tremendous economic impact, the parks desperately need support.
The challenges to our park system are myriad: deteriorating and outdated infrastructure, a lack of consistent and sufficient funding, harsh environmental conditions and a diverse and growing population, to name a few.
And, while legislators have attempted to address proper funding by designating a portion of the sales taxes collected from the sale of sporting goods, the funds have not consistently found their way to the parks.
Since the law was passed in 1993, the state has collected more than $2 billion, yet only 36 percent has been appropriated for parks.
At my request, the Texas State Park Advisory Committee put together a report on the current state of parks and what we can do to sustain a viable parks system.
One of those recommendations was a constitutional amendment permanently guaranteeing revenues generated from the sporting goods sales tax be dedicated to supporting state and local parks.
According to the public opinion survey, 70 percent of voters would support a constitutional amendment to permanently dedicate sales tax revenue for state parks.
Ensuring proper, consistent funding for our parks is good for Texas and for Texans.
Dan Allen Hughes Jr. of Beeville is chairman of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission.