Monday, July 03, 2006

More on the Texas Park System

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram has a front page article and a multi-page spread highlighting the state of the Texas Park system in Sunday's paper. R. A. Dyer's three articles cover an overview of the park system, a summary of the damage from Hurricane Rita, and a highlight of the problems facing Garner State Park, the most popular park in Texas.

The main article, "Texas parks in a state of neglect," documents many specific unmet needs in the parks, including the deplorable state of the transportation system, where decade old vehicles are being cannibalized to keep the remaining fleet running.

According to state parks Director Walt Dabney, the biggest challenge to park management is the escalating fixed costs, i.e., utilities and fuel. With a stagnant budget, the only way to manage increases in costs is to cut personnel.

The article details the funding issues, including sources of revenues.
So now the system is mostly dependant on its own revenue -- about 61 percent of its overall budget comes from operating fees, oil and gas royalties, and the sale of cattle. By contrast, about 35 percent of the overall parks budgets nationwide come from self-generating sources, according to a Texas A&M University researcher.
It is worth noting that although the Big Bend sale of 46,000 acres was blocked, the article lists ten other parks that are being transferred to other agencies, including local municipalities. The Matagorda Island State Park is being downgraded to a state wildlife management area, without staff or park programs.

Gov. Perry's recent ads targeted the good he's done for economic development in Texas. Yet in a state where tourism is among the top five industries, this is how Perry is responding to the park's funding crisis.

"Although funding for Texas parks slowly began to evaporate more than a decade ago, much of the slide occurred the watch of Gov. Rick Perry, who took office in 2000.

While the state budget has grown 42 percent under his tenure, the budget for parks has gone down. Perry also recently called upon all state agencies to submit spending plans for the upcoming two-year budget cycle that include additional cuts of 10 percent -- meaning the parks division is likely to face more reductions.

"The parks department, like other agencies, has had to tighten its belt," said Kathy Walt, a spokeswoman for Perry.

She said the agency may want to consider divesting itself of additional parkland as a way to save money [emphasis mine], although the department has already made reductions that far outstrip the state average.

It's visionary thinking like this that's earned him four challengers in the upcoming election. The article is a long one, but mandatory reading for anyone who fishes, hunts, boats, or camps in Texas.


Anonymous said...

Bravo for the excellent coverage of this overlooked issue.

In a society where obesity and diabetes are epidemic, and kids and adults alike are more likely to stay inside and watch TV than get out and play -
In a society where urban sprawl has reduced the amount of open space for kids to go play outside -
In a society where entertainment and consumption have become one-and-the-same -
In a society where bored people are more likely to go to the MALL than to a park -
In a society where kids learn about nature via cable TV programs on the Discovery channel, instead of by experiencing it first-hand -

We need to step back and really examine the reality of what we really want for our country. Is the almighty dollar and the gross national product our ultimate goal?

I say no! Quality of life is what we should strive for. Our state park system should be the jewel in our crown.

Our children don't want more cheap crappy toys from WalMart that break in an hour. They want quality time with their parents. Take a kid fishing! They will remember and cherish this forever.

It's a shame that so many of our state parks not only have to charge ever-increasing entry and use fees, but that the maintenance has gone down-hill.

The worse shame is the sell-off. They're just not making any more land. We have to preserve and *conserve* (an actual conservative value) for future generations those public lands for education and enjoyment. Timber and oil companies own enough land, and lets face it, they're just not making any more new land these days.

Take action!

Call your state Senator and Representative:

State Senator – District 9
Senator Chris Harris (R)
(512) 463-0109
P.O. Box 12068
Austin, Texas 78711
522 South Edmonds Lane, Suite 200
Lewisville, Texas 75067
Tel: (972) 436-1001
Fax: (972) 436-9829

State Representative – District 63
Representative Mary Denny (R)
(512) 463-0688
P.O. Box 2910
Austin, TX 78768
(972) 724-8477
1001 Cross Timbers Road, #1245
Flower Mound, TX 75028

You can also help out by purchasing a Texas Parks and Wildlife Conservation State Parks Pass for $60 that gives you access to all state parks for a full year with no entry fee. You can get a second pass for the same family for only $15 more!


Bradley said...

Thanks, Steve, for the extra information about how to help.