Texas parkland sits idle for years without funding

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by The Associated Press

kens5.com

Posted on February 25, 2013 at 10:21 AM

Updated Wednesday, Mar 20 at 1:07 PM

CLEVELAND, Texas (AP) — Four Texas park areas that cover nearly 48,000 acres of forests, canyons and beaches remain closed because park officials don't have the money to open them.

The Texas Parks & Wildlife Department hasn't gotten money from the Legislature to develop new parks for a decade, the Houston Chronicle reported (http://bit.ly/YtOlsR ) on Monday. That frustrates parks advocates, who point to tracts of land that the state owns but hasn't developed for visitors.

Those tracts include Davis Hill State Park, a 1,700-acre plot east of downtown Houston that includes a 261-foot hill, centuries-old trees and a beach along the Trinity River. State officials envision walking trails, camp facilities and possibly an observation tower from the hill.

But a master plan and development for the park could cost more than $12 million.

Retired Liberty County Judge Don Taylor said he worked with former Texas Gov. Price Daniel to line up donations and purchases for the park.

"Gov. Daniel wanted the land set aside for the people, because of the uniqueness of the property," Taylor said. "But today it's almost hidden from view. People who live in its shadow don't even know it exists."

Officials say they also need more money for the Kronkosky State Natural Area northwest of San Antonio, Palo Pinto Mountains State Park outside Fort Worth, and the Chinati Mountain State Natural Area in West Texas.

"We have limited resources that are devoted to projects with the highest priority and eventually we run out and projects continue to sit there," state parks director Brent Leisure said.

State Rep. Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio, has offered one solution — a bill that could boost parks department funding by prohibiting lawmakers from using sporting goods sales tax revenue for any other purpose. The tax generated $248 million in 2012-13. Less than one-fourth of that amount went to parks.

"It feels remiss for us to be letting potential parkland sit dormant because there's no funding," Larson said. "But park administrators have been beaten back from the trough for so long that this year they didn't even ask."

Evelyn Merz, the statewide conservation chairwoman for the Sierra Club, said she wanted revenue from specialty license plates and stamps that are related to conservation or wildlife. Those items brought in $1.3 million over the last two years, she said.

"With all this, there should be plenty of money to keep our old parks going while working to open the new ones," Merz said.

Sen. Tommy Williams, Republican from The Woodlands who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, said he wants to open undeveloped parks. But the bigger issue to him is the continuing deferral of maintenance on parks that are already open.

"I want to bring our existing parks up to standard," Williams said.

Lawmakers are already grappling with a multibillion-dollar obligation for more Medicaid funding and demands for new investment in water resources and roads. Preliminary budget proposals could force the closure of as many as nine existing parks.

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Information from: Houston Chronicle, http://www.houstonchronicle.com

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