From the Pen of Robert L. Cook
We have never failed to ask the Texas Legislature and state leadership for additional funding for the much needed staffing, maintenance, operations and expansion of our state parks, or the other programs at this agency. Likewise, we have never failed to point out when we didn't get as much money appropriated as we thought we needed. Texans really care about their state parks, the state's fish and wildlife resources, and the great outdoors of Texas. Sometimes they get stirred up about these issues and these resources and how they are being cared for. We would, therefore, be remiss if we failed to recognize the Texas Legislature and state leadership when they appropriated sufficient funds for state parks and our other operations at the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
Well, Texans, listen up and let there be no doubt: Your legislators and your state elected officials absolutely did a wonderful thing for Texas and for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department during this last legislative session and we are very appreciative. We asked for what we needed and they delivered. It is that simple, that straightforward. I have always said that they would do all they could for us, and they did it.
They funded almost all of our requests for additional state park staffing, maintenance/minor repairs, equipment replacement and basic operations - a total of just over $23 million per year in additional "operational" funding. They funded an additional $44 million for maintenance and major repair projects. They appropriated $15.5 million per year for our local park grant program plus an additional $16.7 million for specific local park projects around the state. In addition, the 80th Texas Legislature appropriated $4.1 million of general revenue for our Texas game wardens; an additional $12.3 million from our freshwater fisheries stamp to rebuild and renovate our hatcheries; an additional $25 million to "dry-berth" the Battleship Texas; and $12 million to support the transfer of the Texas State Railroad to a newly created local rail authority in East Texas. The legislators appropriated $13.9 million for land acquisition to expand existing parks and to add new parks.
Now, we must, and we will, do a good job of effectively and efficiently utilizing the funding that has been made available to us to get our state parks back in tip-top shape, properly staffed and available for the safe and enjoyable use by all Texans and out-of-state visitors. We will replace worn-out equipment and fill our empty positions where needed. We will immediately reinstate our wonderfully popular local parks grant program. We will permanently dry-berth the Battleship Texas, where it will be clean, safe and secure, and out of the waters of the Houston Ship Channel. We will add another 15 Texas game wardens in the field along the Rio Grande and on the Texas coast, and we will continue to refill vacant game warden positions. Our Texas game wardens will continue to be the best-educated, best-trained, and best-equipped game wardens in North America. We will build and open the new East Texas Freshwater Fish Hatchery in Jasper County, which will include over 60 acres of hatchery and rearing ponds. We will do these projects and we will do them right.
Therefore, I ask you to make a point to contact your local and statewide elected officials - including Governor Perry, Lt. Governor Dewhurst and Speaker Craddick - to say, "Thank you, we appreciate what you did for Texas state parks and for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department in the last legislative session."
Finally, "thank you" to all Texans who support and appreciate the great outdoors of Texas.
Get outdoors. Get involved.