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From the Pen of Carter P. Smith

It is a tale of two parks, both early in the making. Rob McCorkle’s narrative on two of our state’s newest treasures, Palo Pinto Mountains State Park and Kronkosky State Natural Area, chronicles what it takes to plan, develop and build a park from the ground up. To no surprise, it doesn’t happen by accident. Moreover, it certainly doesn’t happen overnight. As evidenced by the other 90 or so park sites in our portfolio, we believe it is well worth the wait.

As with any of our sites, they must first be acquired. Those acquisitions make up a colorful part of TPWD’s lore, full of political will, intrigue, drama and suspense. They also reflect the deep spirit of generosity of Texas’ civic, philanthropic and landowner leaders who have helped shape the state’s park system, past, present and future.

The Palo Pinto Mountains site came about as a way to resolve a mounting contretemps in Fort Worth over the proposed sale of the former Eagle Mountain Lake State Park, a 400-acre swath of open space on the northeast shore of the park’s namesake lake. The park, which had never been opened since its acquisition in the 1980s, had been labeled as “surplus property” and put up for sale to the highest bidder. To put it charitably, neighbors, area residents, park enthusiasts and civic leaders came unglued.

The resulting solution was the rarest of the rare in the realm of conservation deals — a proposed “two parks for one” deal for the residents of Fort Worth and surrounding areas.

In its basic terms, the Tarrant Regional Water District, with donations from a variety of public, corporate and private philanthropic sources, including schoolkids from Fort Worth, would “buy” the Eagle Mountain Lake site from the state and manage it as a local park. TPWD, in turn, would use the funds from the “sale” to acquire a new, larger state park site within an hour or so of the Fort Worth area.

It wasn’t easy and it wasn’t quick, but thanks to the generosity of many people, the good deeds of the Trust for Public Land to help broker the original deal, the work of the Nature Conservancy to locate and secure the Palo Pinto Mountains site, and the deft political skills of a couple of Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission chairs, the two-parks-for-one deal came to final fruition with the acquisition of the 4,000-acre Palo Pinto Mountains site, a jewel of a place just off of Interstate 20 near the quaint community of Strawn.

The nearly 4,000-acre Kronkosky State Natural Area has its origins in the former 3K Ranch, owned by Bessie and Albert Kronkosky. Located in the picturesque hills just west of San Antonio, the ranch, worth of tens of millions of dollars, could have easily suffered the fate of development of so many other farms and ranches on the urban fringe.

Thankfully, the Kronkoskys, generous philanthropists and principal benefactors of the Kronkosky Foundation, had other thoughts about the property’s future. Those plans, which included bequeathing the biologically rich Hill Country land to TPWD, came about in no small part because of a friendship between Mr. Kronkosky and the late Louis Stumberg. Mr. Stumberg, a former TPWD commissioner, impressed upon the couple the immense public value that the property would offer as a park or natural area. They readily concurred.

Upon Mr. Kronkosky’s death, the property was ready for transfer to TPWD. But two obstacles emerged. The first was an unexpected challenge to the transfer by a nonprofit organization that had very different designs on the future of the ranch. The second was the timing. The state was in a very challenging position financially and in real danger of having to temporarily close parks. Adding new lands at a time like that might be perceived as irresponsible.

Thankfully, however, the deal came together. The estate’s executor held firm against the challenge by the dissenting organization, and the TPW Commission took the long-term view on the property and accepted the bequest.

I often say that our work both matters and is measured in generational terms. And, while it will undoubtedly take time to fully develop and open up both sites for full public use, they will be here before we know it and will be here long after we are gone.

Thanks for caring about our wild things and wild places. They need you now more than ever.

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