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Park Extinction

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POSTED: Thursday, May 9, 2013 - 9:29am

UPDATED: Thursday, August 8, 2013 - 1:05pm

It all began with the Daughters of the Republic of Texas. Wanting to save the historic sites of the Texas Revolution…San Jacinto, The Alamo, Washington on the Brazos and Goliad, they convinced the state in 1907 to purchase the sites, making them the first state parks in Texas.
During the Depression, in 1933, President Roosevelt as part of his New Deal alphabet soup of programs, created the CCC or Civilian Conservation Corps. Roosevelt called them the “Tree Army” and the Corps set about building roads, lodges, bridges, trails, cabins and more in hundreds of state, local and national parks.
Here in Tyler, they built the park itself. Between 1935 and 1938, treeless farmland was turned into this…Tyler State Park.
“Try to imagine all of this without the trees. All of these trees were not here,” says Park Superintendent Bill Smart.
Texas government had two departments devoted to the outdoors, The State Parks board and Game and Fish Commission.  Governor John Connolly wanted to streamline state government.
1963 was momentous in many ways. The Beatles released their first US single, Lawrence of Arabia won the Oscar for best picture, and ending the year in tragedy,  President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas.
But it was also the year, Governor Connolly got his way, and the Parks Board and Game and Fish Commission merged into the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
“Yeah, we get those visitors that come in and, for lack of a better word, complain because of the cost factor,” Smart told us. “And our job there is to try to educate them and say, hey, we are not a burden on the taxpayers of the state of Texas. For the most part, Texas Parks and Wildlife generates revenue. And we try to get our users to pay for using our facilities. We have fee increases that have increased our revenue amounts. We try to pay our own way as much as possible.”
And whether you are one of those folks who simply enjoys hiking in the woods…or perhaps you’re a fisherman looking for that perfect spot on a Texas lake…or you’re a hunter after a trophy buck…the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has helped to make that possible. And they’ve worked to make sure those unspoiled spots are always there.
Families through the succeeding 5 decades have enjoyed the outdoors thanks to the TPWD.
There are 91 state parks, historical sites and natural areas that total nearly 600,000 acres in 98 counties.
They host 8 million visitors a year and generate $793 million in sales and provide 12,000 jobs.
“And I think we reflect on the last 50 years as some of the golden years of fish and wildlife conservation,” says TPWD Director Carter Smith. “But certainly as we look forward to our next 50 years, as our mission of stewarding the state’s fish, wildlife and parks and promoting compatible outdoor recreation isn’t going to change one bit, but how we do it absolutely will change.”
A 1993 tax on sporting goods was supposed to support the parks, but the most they ever got was 60% of the money.
Today it’s closer to 25%.
“Well, House Bill 12 that was passed back in 2007,” Smith said, “envisioned the possibility of 94% of that portion of the sales tax called the sporting goods sales tax, would go to support state parks and local park grant programs. The amount of funding the department has received from that source has declined in recent years. Although again, I must say, as the legislature has been working on the budget, they have been looking for ways to put back more of that revenue stream back into the budget.”
The department needs 411 million or 20 parks may close.
So far, it looks like they’ll get a little over half that. That means 7 parks may have to close.
“Fortunately, we were able to avoid park closures,” says Smith, “and we did that in the face of some very formidable obstacles. We’ve been asked to reduce our budget substantially.”
So, is Parks and Wildlife a priority for Texas budget writers?
“I’m cautiously optimistic. The legislative session isn’t over,” Smith concluded.
“What we do is we just try to maintain what’s been given to us over the years,” says Bill Smart

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