State Parks Make Plea for Help
Drought, heat, fires push down visitation, revenue; public urged to visit parks, donate money.
By Tom Harvey
A year of record heat, drought and wildfires prompted state park leaders to make an unprecedented public appeal for help, holding 11 news conferences in a single day at different parks across Texas on Dec. 6.
“We’ve had a season of record drought and devastating wildfires, and all of that has caused declines in state park visitation and revenue,” said Carter Smith, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department executive director. “For most of us, this is the drought of a lifetime, and we’ve seen very, very substantial effects on our parks.”
Through the summer and into early fall, traditionally a busy time for parks, many Texans stayed home because of the drought and heat. Also, three popular state parks — Bastrop, Davis Mountains and Possum Kingdom — suffered major wildfire damage and produced no revenue for weeks, though all are now back open to varying degrees.
In August, state park system revenue declined 25 percent compared with the previous August. September and October revenue was down more than 11 percent.
“The bottom line is we have a $4.6 million gap in our 2012 park system operating budget,” Smith said. “This is the amount we need to raise to help keep state parks open.”
Smith said the most important thing people can do to help is to visit state parks, since visitor fees pay for about half the cost of operating the park system.
“You can also go to our website and make a tax-deductible contribution to help support your state parks,” Smith said. “And, when you go to renew your vehicle registration, you're going to be given an opportunity to make a $5 or more contribution for parks.”
Cooler weather makes winter a good time to visit state parks, many of which have lifted burn bans after recent rains, allowing campfire gatherings once more.