Written by Sarah LaPotin, Environment Texas intern and Environmental Science / Ecology and Evolutionary Biology student at Tulane University.
Summer is here, which means that many Texas families will want to go out and visit their state parks. More than 7 million Texans each year head out to the 93 Texas state parks to spend quality time in the great outdoors enjoying family-friendly activities like camping, boating, hiking, and fishing. Texas state parks are a huge part of Texas’ tourism and travel industry, which is the third largest industry in the state and brings $51.8 billion into the Texas economy, and employs over half a million Texans. Clearly, state parks are incredibly important to Texas’ economy.
Unfortunately, the 82nd Legislature cut 21.5% of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) funding this biennium, or about $150 million dollars less to protect parks and wildlife. 111 TPWD employees were laid off, 23 parks saw reductions in staff, and around 10 parks operate fewer hours of the week.
Executive director of Texas Parks and Wildlife, Carter Smith, said, “Limiting the numbers of days that a group can spend at a park could present problems for families.” He also said that “Recent cuts will certainly be felt by outdoors inclined people,” and that “Our services are going to be different than in the past.” Despite the reductions in funding, Texans are still excited to go out and visit their state parks. Already, there has been a 2.2% increase in the amount of people visiting Texas state parks for this year compared to last year. However, the reduction in funding has already affected many Texas families.
Visitors to Fort Boggy State Park in Centerville, near College Station, can now only come two days a week, on weekends, rather than the four days a week schedule they were used to. For the many locals that frequent this park for its swimming beach, fishing, boating, and nature trails this is bad news, especially since Fort Boggy State Park is located in an area with very few other outdoor recreational opportunities.
Visitors to state parks spend money in local communities. Per capita retail sales is rural counties with state parks is 14.8% higher than those in rural counties without state parks. When park hours are cut back, this means less money is being spent it these communities, which can negatively impact them economically.
Because of cutbacks in funding, all local park grants have been suspended. This means that Texas towns can no longer receive funding for new park services, such as playgrounds and outdoor recreation areas, or renovate their existing parks in any way. The Legislature also appropriated no money for land acquisition for new state parks. With Texas’ growing population, this will pose significant problems, as more and more people will want to visit state parks.
Texas Parks and Wildlife currently faces a large backlog of repairs that are necessary in aging parks. In the years before state park funding was cut, they had managed to make strides towards getting rid of this backlog. However, with last year’s budget cuts, they have once again fallen behind. Texas state parks require repairs to provide quality visitor experiences and to ensure the continued safety and operation of the parks.
All funding has also been greatly cut back for controlling the spread of invasive aquatic species, which could have detrimental effects on incredibly important and delicate aquatic ecosystems. Research and treatment of golden alga, which is known to kill millions and millions of fish and has been increasing in duration and location over the years in Texas, has been eliminated completely. Funding allocated to inland fisheries has also been reduced, meaning fewer scientific studies will be completed and fewer fisheries management surveys will be conducted, and fewer hatchery ponds will be stocked, resulting in fewer fish stocked in public waters. In edition, education programming will be greatly reduced at fisheries. Boater education field staff positions have also been cut, and the wildlife interpretive education program has been eliminated.
In order to help your Texas state parks you can:
- Demand that the Texas Legislature uses funding from parks-and-wildlife activities to help fund parks and wildlife programs, as they promised. Sales taxes on sporting goods such as bicycles and camping gear bring in $120 million a year. These funds are supposed to be dedicated to helping our state parks. However, the Legislature has been diverting 73 percent of these funds to other purposes. Thousands of Texans also pay $30 for conservation license plates, since they are told that the funds will “help fund conservation efforts right here in Texas.” However 50 percent of these funds are not given to state parks, which lead these efforts. This is unacceptable.
- Go here to make a tax-deductible donation.
- Make a donation when you renew your motor vehicle registration. The legislature created a vehicle registration donation option that is very important for state parks.
- Because visitor fees pay for about half of park system operating costs, visit state parks!