Texas Parks & Wildlife Magazine   



Texas' Oldest State Parks

State parks underwent a major expansion in the 1930s, and the parks acquired in that period remain the historic heart of Texas’ state park system. They were built by the skilled labor of the Depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps. Mother Neff and a handful of historic sites came first, but these five state parks are some of the oldest in the system.

by Julia B. Jones

Photo by Sonja Sommerfeld / TPWD


Opened in mid-1934, Abilene State Park was built by CCC workers along the wooded banks of Elm Creek. The park offers many opportunities for recreation, including swimming in a pool made by the CCC, spending a night in a yurt, walking along nature trails and paddling or fishing at Lake Abilene. Abilene was chosen for a state park because of its growing urban population, its role as a leading city of West Texas and its location along major highways.

Photo by Sonja Sommerfeld / TPWD


Blanco was one of the first four state parks to receive help from the CCC, whose members arrived in 1933 and worked for 11 months to establish the park along the Blanco River. They built dams, picnic areas, roads, bridges and other facilities that allowed traveling families to stop and swim or enjoy nature for a bit.

Photo by Earl Nottingham / TPWD


Opened in 1934, the park has offered lakeside activities for the past 80 years. Fishing and birding are popular here. Of the handful of buildings built by the CCC, only the refectory (nicknamed “the Castle”) remains, made of local caliche cast in blocks to look like cut limestone.

Photo by Chase Fountain / TPWD


Bonham donated the land for the state park in 1933, and the park opened in 1936 after work was completed by the CCC. It boasts a lake where guests can swim, boat and fish. The park exemplifies the CCC park formula — an earthen dam impounding a small lake, a refectory and landscape features for the purposes of erosion control and public recreation. Bonham State Park contains four examples of the CCC “rustic” style: the boathouse, dance pavilion, concession building (now park headquarters) and water tower.

Photo by Sonja Sommerfeld / TPWD


Palo Duro opened as a state park in 1934 after being considered as a possible national park. CCC workers built trails, cabins, a lodge (now the visitor center) and the winding road that takes visitors into the canyon. The CCC used local stone and wood for building materials to complement the natural surroundings. The park has expanded its original holdings to now cover 28,000 acres.



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