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Protecting Our Parks


Since 1971, a special group of law enforcement officers has been responsible for the safety, security and protection of the natural jewels in Texas and those who visit them.

State Park Police protect the state’s natural and cultural resources through community-oriented policing and emergency response. In 2021, they celebrate a half-century of law enforcement and public safety services for 10 million state park visitors annually.

In 1971, a dozen carefully selected officers started the evolution to what is now the State Park Police. Today, the number has grown to around 140 highly trained police officers.

“I am beyond proud of the dedication and service displayed by these brave professionals,” says Rodney Franklin, director of Texas state parks. “State Park Police are among the most highly skilled and trained officers in the state. They have the critical responsibility of keeping the states most treasured and beautiful places and landscapes safe for millions to enjoy. When visitors and communities are in need, these officers are among the first to help."

Visitors may be surprised to learn about what goes on behind the scenes while they relax in the safety of a Texas state park. Often confused with Texas game wardens, State Park Police officers deal with “overindulging” humans, find those who lose their way, hand out water bottles to the unprepared, lend medical assistance quickly and resolve any problem that pops up unexpectedly, all while being a part of the larger law enforcement community in Texas.

“This unique job can be demanding and difficult, but rewarding,” says State Park Police Chief Wes Masur. “Officers are trained and capable first responders in both urban and wildland environments, utilizing specialized equipment including 4x4 patrol vehicles, boats, kayaks, drones, high-angle rescue gear, UTVs and ATVs, bicycles and even horses.”

Never knowing what each day may bring, State Park Police serve with honor, dedication, heroism and even an often-welcomed sense of humor. No one can tell the story of the Texas State Park Police better than these dedicated officers. Find more of their fascinating tales of diverse duties across the state online on the magazine blog.

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Doc Martens Footprints

A woman and her son were stranded on McFaddin Beach, a remote area surrounded by 58,000 acres of uninhabited marsh. Despite poor cell reception, I reached her by text and got a general location. I headed out on an ATV, finding them at their vehicle about three miles in.

I gave them water, and she told me her husband went to find fuel the previous evening and hadn’t returned. Her description included Doc Marten boots and a gas can. A tow truck came for them, and I contacted U.S. Fish and Wildlife and the U.S. Coast Guard to assist me in the search.

I drove to White’s Levee, the closest one in the area. In the sand, I found boot prints consistent with Doc Martens. The prints headed toward the Intracoastal Waterway.

While the Coast Guard and the Sheriff’s Department deployed patrol boats and helicopters, two Fish and Wildlife officers arrived on ATVs to help me search.

We followed the Doc Marten tracks about three miles, near the Intracoastal Waterway, and found a gas can on the ground. The ground became very rough and mucky, and I found a Doc Marten boot stuck in the mud. A short distance away, I found the second Doc Marten boot stuck in the mud. A little further, both socks.

We tracked bare footprints in the mud for another 12 miles.

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Eventually they turned down another levee near High Island. This levee was dry with no sand, so we found no more prints.

I called all our search assets to sweep the surrounding area.

About 15 minutes later, one of the Fish and Wildlife officers found him. He was exhausted, severely dehydrated and had two broken ankles, but he was alive. While we waited for the medivac helicopter, he told us his story.

When he reached the first levee, he saw lights in the distance and thought there was a gas station (just boat lights). He lost his boots, then broke both ankles over the rough terrain and dragged himself through the marsh on his belly. Helicopters passed over him twice, but he was too weak to raise himself up to get their attention. He was so dirty that he blended in with the marsh.

He went on to make a full recovery.

 Top: Chase Fountain | TPWD; Middle: Sonja Sommerfeld | TPWD

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Reassuring the Boy on the Buoy

On a June day, I pulled into a parking spot with a vantage point overlooking the beach and swimming area at the Isle du Bois Unit. As I scanned, I observed a head bobbing near the “No Boat” buoys on the outer perimeter of the swim beach area (approximately 650 feet from the shore). A park host called from the beach and said he could hear a child yelling for help from the buoys.

I immediately launched the State Park Police drone with the speaker attachment and flew it to the buoy. Through the drone, I could communicate with him and see that the 8-year-old boy had a toddler-sized PFD with only the arm floats expanded as he held on to the buoy. The exhausted boy was able to wave to signal “yes” to a variety of questions as I formulated a plan for rescue.

His father had begun swimming from the beach with a life ring; I reassured the boy that I would stay with him. Both made it back to the shore safe and sound.

“Never swim too far from the shore!” was the lesson learned, says one very relieved little boy.

 Sonja Sommerfeld | TPWD

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Texas-Sized Wildlife

There’s a vast difference between the wildlife and scenery at Sheldon Lake and what I was used to growing up in Indiana. One day, on a routine fishing license patrol, I observed an individual with a rifle pointed at a parked vehicle.

I was unsure if there was a person inside. I told him to drop the weapon and drew my firearm. He immediately did, yelling “Snake! Snake!” and now pointing his finger at the front of the vehicle. I secured the firearm (which turned out to be a BB gun) and questioned the man. 

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He told me that a snake had crawled into his vehicle while he was fishing and was now under the hood. Sure enough, a large rat snake was wrapped around the engine block.

After some poking and prodding, it eventually dropped down and slithered away. 

 Chase Fountain | TPWD

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Quietly Averting Crises

“You all must have a great job, just driving around and protecting the squirrels all day” is the kind of thing I hear state park visitors say. Some days, it does feel that way. One typical fall day in 2019, I decided to hop on the ATV for a patrol.

While making my way through the day-use area, I witnessed a vehicle without an entrance permit driving the wrong way on the road. I approached with the intention of sending them the right way back to the headquarters for an entrance permit, but I could tell this wasn’t going to be a typical stop. 

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Music blared loudly from behind closed windows, and two males appeared intoxicated. The driver had a hard time rolling the window down and had a bottle of whiskey between his legs. A deputy arrived to back me up. We conducted field sobriety tests and the subject was arrested for DWI.

When reviewing my camera footage later, I saw that a young boy had run out on the road right behind us, playing with friends. I realized that we had possibly prevented a terrible accident from occurring. The families were able to enjoy their stay as we did our job with little notice.

 Top: Chase Fountain | TPWD; Middle: Sonja Sommerfeld | TPWD

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Public Support Matters

Following Hurricane Harvey in 2017, I was one of about 50 State Park Police officers who responded to Southeast Texas for search-and-rescue operations. During the operation, civilian volunteers went above and beyond to help their neighbors and to support and sustain our rescue operations. 

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Part of our group was sent to Kountze, where our days consisted of long, hot hours on a boat or in a truck in search of citizens in need of rescue, and nights were spent in the courthouse, where we slept on cots. A local family set up a cook trailer next to the courthouse and provided us with hot meals for the entirety of our stay. Other citizens donated food, bottled water, ice and gas to keep us fueled and ready for the day’s tasks.

It seemed as though every person we met wanted to give us something or, at the very least, just thank us for coming to help.  

 Sonja Sommerfeld | TPWD

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Snake Wrangler

My first duty station was Palo Duro Canyon State Park, where I enjoyed the canyon’s beauty, extraordinary history and diversity of wildlife. Working with wildlife was part of the job.

As a child, I was terrified of snakes. With education, I overcame that fear and appreciated them.

One afternoon, a couple checked in to the Lighthouse Cabin. Stepping outside to enjoy the view, they saw a snake on the rocky patio area. Frightened, they called the park headquarters.

The cabin is nestled into the rim of the canyon. A rock stairway leads from the parking area down to a large rock patio bordered by a rock retaining wall. The couple acknowledged me with a wave, but they weren’t coming outside until the area was snake-free. They pointed to a crack in the rock wall where the “rattlesnake” had slithered.

The stage was set. The couple peeked out the front door. I crouched down, looking into the crack at eye level, about a foot away. 

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I pulled out my flashlight and shined it into the crack. Nothing.

Still crouched, I pulled out my collapsible baton, poked it into the crack and wiggled it around.

The snake leaped out of the crack and landed between my feet. I let out a yell while jumping onto the picnic table. The couple and I watched from safety as the snake relocated itself down the side of the canyon rim.

Mission accomplished! Obviously, I meant to do that.

 Chase Fountain | TPWD

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Unsung Heroes

The flooded-out car was only a few miles from Abilene State Park, but there was no good direct route. We’d have to drive at least 10 miles to get there. A woman and a small baby were trapped on the roof of their car; the water was too swift and too deep to reach them and still rising. My blood pressure also started rising.

When we arrived, the woman and small child were still on the roof, clearly upset and afraid. The swift water was within a few inches of reaching them.

My partner and I put on our lifejackets, linked up like a two-segment caterpillar and went into the water. We had to fight hard against the current.

We got the child to safety, then the mother. She seemed weightless as I pulled her from the car.

Adrenaline is a powerful hormone.

Once mother and child were safely secured inside a warm, dry Sheriff’s Department vehicle, we left. I never learned their names, but I know we saved their lives. 

 Chase Fountain | TPWD

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