A Half-Century of Service
TPWD celebrates 50 years as a state agency.
By Mike Cox
Fifty years ago, a state agency called the Texas Game and Fish Commission oversaw the state’s conservation efforts, while a separate entity known as the State Parks Board managed the state’s parkland. But that was about to change.
When the 58th Legislature convened on Jan. 8, 1963, lawmakers soon began consideration of House Bill 21, introduced by state Rep. James M. Cotton, a Weatherford attorney descended from a Parker County pioneer. The measure, called for by Gov. John B. Connally as part of his campaign to modernize state government, would merge the two state agencies into a new Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. The proposed new agency’s policies would be set by a three-member, gubernatorially appointed Parks and Wildlife Commission, replacing a nine-member Game and Fish Commission and a six-member Parks Board.
The final version of the bill passed in the Senate in early April; Connally later signed it into law with an effective date of Aug. 23. The only significant amendment provided that no license money collected by the wildlife side of the new agency could be used for state parks.
As the Legislature pondered creating a new conservation agency for Texas, construction was completed on the John H. Reagan Building, and the soon-to-be TPWD moved to the new state office building at 105 W. 15th St. TPWD would remain there until 1976, when it moved to the present headquarters complex at 4200 Smith School Road in Southeast Austin.
Though creation of the new agency in 1963 had not been without some political disagreement, the department began its new life with an increased budget (the amount earmarked for parks had been tripled) and funding for some 50 new employees. Soon TPWD began acquiring new parkland and refurbishing facilities in the existing 58 parks while continuing its wildlife conservation efforts.
Even so, TPWD did not assume its new duties without having to deal with a few glitches, including the need to quickly replace the first sign that went up at the new Capitol complex headquarters, one that read: “Texas Parks and Wild Life Department.” When someone viewing the plastic sign wryly noted that the newly passed legislation creating the department did not give it jurisdiction over a Texan’s lifestyle, be it wild or tame, a new sign went up, correctly making it “Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.”
As part of the anniversary, TPWD has set up a special Web page at www.lifesbetteroutside.org. Here, readers can share stories and photos about their favorite memorable moments in the Texas outdoors. While online, anyone can sign up to become a Texas Parks and Wildlife ambassador to help keep things great for the next 50 years.
Look for comprehensive coverage of the department’s 50th birthday, with highlights of what TPWD has accomplished during the past half-century, in this magazine’s commemorative July issue.
For more on TPWD's 50th anniversary, go to www.lifesbetteroutside.org