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Texas Trailblazers

Making Parks ‘Greener’

Conservationist and author George Bristol grew up visiting state parks around Texas. During the summers of 1961 and 1962, while a student at the University of Texas, he worked at Glacier National Park in Montana.

“It was the best job I ever had, and led to a lifelong interest in national parks,” says Bristol, who was appointed to the National Parks Foundation in 1994. “I was thoroughly snakebit. I went to see my friend Andy Sansom and said I wanted to spend the rest of my life working on parks.”

In 2000, Sansom, who was executive director of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, told Bristol that funding was the main problem facing Texas state parks. Bristol spent the 2001 legislative session learning all he could about it and realized the sporting goods sales tax needed fixing. Over the next two decades, Bristol became a tireless advocate for the fix.

A 1993 state law allowed revenue from the sales tax on sporting goods to go to parks. The Legislature’s intent was to have all these proceeds go to state parks, but in the fund’s 20 years of existence, less than 40 percent actually did so, Bristol says. The Legislature passed a bill in 2015 to fix the problem, but it was not a fully dedicated funding measure. In 2019, another bill allowed for a constitutional amendment giving the full allocation to parks. The amendment passed with the bipartisan support of a remarkable 88 percent of Texas voters, and resulted in tens of millions of extra dollars for parks.

“State and national parks are recognition that we have many wonderful spots that ought to be the domain of the public,” Bristol says. “Nature is part of us; it is in our genes. Even in darkest days, polls show people love parks and are willing to pay for parks.”

The job is far from finished, he says. Texas needs more parks, and park development requires land, money and planning. Current funding can cover some of the need, and Bristol says the next legislative session will see more bills dealing with park funding.

“It may take a couple of sessions, but the Legislature is now used to giving parks most or all of what they’re meant to have,” says Bristol, adding that the pandemic showed us the importance of parks and outdoor spaces. “If we take care of parks, then parks will take care of us.”

Bristol’s book, “Texas State Parks: The First 100 Years,” is being published by TCU Press. 

 Chase Fountain | TPWD

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