City Hall

As Legislature Mulls State Parks' Closure, Would-Be Sites Languish For Decades

The budget ax brought down by the state legislature in 2011 gouged a huge chunk from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, which lost more than a fifth of its funding. The result was layoffs and a reduction in staffing and hours of operation at a number of state parks.

The initial spending proposals unveiled this year by legislators would cut a bit deeper, and this this time, it wouldn't just be parks' hours that would be reduced. As many as 20 would be forced to close outright, though which to put on the chopping block has not yet been decided.

But while the legislature debates whether to further gut the state parks system, the Houston Chronicle highlights another byproduct of chronic underfunding: parks that never open.

For 30 years, the state parks department has owned 1,700 acres of diverse wilderness about 45 minutes east of downtown Houston. It stretches from the highest hill on the Texas coastal plain down to a pristine, white sandy beach on the Trinity River.

Yet the public never has had access to this indigenous gem - Davis Hill State Park, named after Gen. James Davis, a Texas Revolutionary hero who once had a plantation home atop the 261-foot hill.

This park has sat idle without the state making a single plan for developing it since the land was acquired in 1983.

But it is not alone. It is the oldest of four state parks, covering nearly 48,000 acres, for which no money has been set aside for development. All remain closed to the public.

Along with Davis Hill, there's the 38,000-square-foot Chinati Mountain State Natural Area near Presidio in West Texas; the Kronkosky State Natural Area, covering 3,700 acres in the Texas Hill Country; and, about 70 miles outside of Fort Worth, the 3,885-acre Palo Pinto Mountains State Park.

The latter was purchased by the state only two years ago with $8 million from the sale of Eagle Mountain Lake State Park in Tarrant County, which means it has sat idle for a much briefer period than Davis Hill (30 years) and Chanati Mountain (18 years). But factor in the 28 years TPWD held the land at Eagle Mountain Lake without ever funding its development (it was purchased with the help of local governments and turned into a regional park), and you doubt it will ever be developed.

For now, Palo Pinto Mountains State Park remains closed to the public. It has a single employee, Park Superintendent John Ferguson, who told a local news site the he's not optimistic the legislature will cough up any cash for development in the immediate future.

When it is developed, Ferguson expects it will bring 100,000 annual visitors. The people of Strawn, Texas, population 653, are waiting.

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Eric Nicholson
Contact: Eric Nicholson