Parks on the Horizon
TPWD will open properties in Big Bend in the Hill Country, on the Texas coast and more.
EVERY TRIP around the sun brings a time for reflection and growth. After 100 trips (and 100 years of reflection), Texas State Parks are ready to grow into the next century with a flurry of new offerings.
Today, Texas boasts 89 state parks, natural areas and historic sites that stretch from the bayous of East Texas to the mountains and deserts of West Texas. Demand for outdoor spaces has never been greater in this state, with most (95 percent) of Texas land in private hands. Naturally, the next big hurdle for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department is opening new parks.
Over the next 12-15 years, TPWD plans to open six new parks across the state. Those sites are Palo Pinto Mountains State Park near Fort Worth, the Dan A. Hughes Unit of Devils River State Natural Area near Del Rio, Albert and Bessie Kronkosky State Natural Area near Boerne, Powderhorn State Park near Port Lavaca, Chinati Mountains State Natural Area near Presidio and Davis Hill State Natural Area near Houston.
It takes time and money to design, plan and construct a park, says Rodney Franklin, director of Texas State Parks.
“There is a need to provide more recreational opportunities for the growing population of Texas — we really don’t have enough places for the people of Texas to enjoy the outdoors,” Franklin says. “Until the recent passage of Proposition 5, we haven’t had the funds to develop some of the properties we have in our inventory. Now, given the stability of the sporting goods sales tax, it’s time to strategically plan how we’re going to provide that opportunity using these properties.”
Earl Nottingham | TPWD
Albert and Bessie Kronkosky State Natural Area
ALBERT AND BESSIE Kronkosky State Natural Area (ABK), located about 45 miles northwest of San Antonio, boasts classic Hill Country terrain and a variety of native plants and animals. Scenic hills and canyons, oak-juniper woodlands and clear-running streams harbor wildlife — foxes, ring-tailed cats, Texas alligator lizards and golden-cheeked warblers — among the big-tooth maples and sycamore-leaf snowbells.
“This place was never ranched, so those impacts are not present,” says James Rice, ABK superintendent. “That leaves us with a slice of the Texas Hill Country that is rare and rapidly disappearing, quite impressive to see and experience.”
ABK visitors can traverse miles of hiking and biking trails (including an all-accessible trail), and stay overnight at cabins, screened shelters, campsites and backpacking sites. A nature center will offer answers to all “What is that?” questions; groups can gather at an outdoor pavilion.
“I am most looking forward to sharing this special place with the public, with hopes that an appreciation for the importance of wild spaces will be realized,” Rice says.
Currently, ABK is in the late planning and design phase; TPWD anticipates the natural area will be open to visitors within the next five years.
Chase Fountain | TPWD
Devils River State Natural Area
NEAR DEL RIO, along the crystal-clear waters of its namesake river, the new Dan A. Hughes Unit of Devils River State Natural Area is unlike any other place in Texas. At the intersection of three different ecological areas — Chihuahuan Desert to the west, Edwards Plateau to the north and Tamaulipan shrublands to the south and east — it is suitable habitat for several species that normally would not be found together.
“Words just don’t do this place justice,” says Asa Vermeulen, complex superintendent of Devils River State Natural Area.
The new unit is 13 miles downriver from the existing Del Norte Unit, purchased in 1988. The park road starts in the uplands, in a landscape dominated by cenizo, Texas sotol and ocotillo, and leads down into the river basin, where giant sycamores, pecans, oaks and ash line the banks. Sprawling toward the 10 miles of river frontage, deep canyons host towering oaks, pecans and old-growth junipers.
“The limestone cliffs and bluffs put on a daily show, gleaming with each sunrise and sunset,” Vermeulen says. “I can’t help but stand in awe constantly.”
Many animals find homes here; songbirds pass through on their migrations and bald eagles nest in the park. Gray foxes, black bears, jackrabbits and deer have been seen in the unit, along with a rich variety of snakes and lizards. Anglers can target bass in the clear-running river.
Construction began in early 2023, and is slated to wrap up in early 2024.
“As its name suggests, the Devils River can strain any well-laid plans,” Vermeulen says. “We always expect delays when working in this rough terrain, but we are excited!”
Earl Nottingham | TPWD
Powderhorn State Park
POWDERHORN STATE PARK, located northwest of Port O’Connor on Matagorda Bay, is the latest state park acquisition along the Texas coast.
“This property holds immense conservation, recreation and ecological value due to the unspoiled coastal prairie and wetlands,” says Reagan Faught, regional director for Texas State Parks. “We are extremely honored to steward such a magnificent property and plan for its future development as a state park.”
The purchase was a collaborative effort between several public and private organizations, including the Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation, The Nature Conservancy, the Conservation Fund and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. These agencies used funds from the Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund, created after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
The majority of the Powderhorn property — 15,000 acres outside the state park — has opened as the Powderhorn Wildlife Management Area, supporting public hunting opportunities.
Powderhorn State Park is made up of a mosaic of coastal woodlands, prairies and wetlands that are largely intact, since they have never been cleared or leveled for agricultural use. The property sits on three miles of frontage on Matagorda Bay and has 2.5 miles of waterfront access to Powderhorn Lake.
The site provides year-round habitat for shorebirds, wading birds and waterfowl. Additionally, it offers critical rest areas for migrating birds during their treks along the coast.
Once complete, the park will provide a variety of opportunities for outdoor recreation, including camping, fishing, hiking, birding, wildlife viewing, kayaking and public hunting.
Currently, there is no set timeline on when park planning will be completed or when the site will open to the public.
Earl Nottingham | TPWD
Chinati Mountains State Natural Area
CHINATI MOUNTAINS State Natural Area, located near Big Bend Ranch State Park in the Chinati Mountains range, showcases a rugged and remote slice of West Texas. It contains one of the best examples in Texas of a transition zone between Chihuahuan Desert lowlands and the higher-elevation grass-oak communities.
“I am looking forward to the future development and opening of this state natural area for the enjoyment and use of the people of Texas and beyond,” says Nathanael Gold, Big Bend Ranch Complex superintendent. “I feel fortunate to be a part of maintaining its wild and rugged character while working toward sustainable access to this unique place in Texas.”
Since the terrain changes from 2,900 to 7,200 feet above sea level, the site supports a diverse variety of wildlife and habitats. In the lower elevations, visitors will be able to see desert shrubs such as mesquite, creosote and althorn. Mid-elevation desert plants feature sotol, yucca and Texas beargrass, while trees (blue and gray oaks) and tall grasslands can be found in the upper elevations.
Montezuma quail and gray vireo are two significant bird species that call the Chinatis home. Sixteen species of bats (including the threatened Mexican long-nosed bat) and 12 species of snakes have been documented at the park, along with gray foxes, pronghorn, rock squirrels, porcupines, cottontails, mule deer, mountain lions and black bears.
Once the park opens, visitors will be able to camp, backpack, hike, stargaze, ride horses and enjoy the solitude at one of the most remote and scenic landscapes in Texas.
Currently, development has not begun on the property; no specific opening date has been set.
Earl Nottingham | TPWD
Davis Hill State Natural Area
NESTLED ABOUT 40 miles from downtown Houston, Davis Hill State Natural Area stretches from the highest hill on the Texas coastal plain down to a white-sand beach along the Trinity River. The site is named for Gen. James Davis, a veteran of the War of 1812 and the Army of the Republic of Texas, who had a plantation home atop the hill.
The site contains one of the most diverse plant communities in the Texas State Parks system. With the diversity of habitats, several uncommon plant species are found there, including the shadow witch orchid, which grows in ravines over clay soil. Along with more common cypress trees, ferns and little bluestem grass, two potentially undescribed species of plants are being studied at Davis Hill.
This park is currently inaccessible; TPWD is working on land acquisitions to allow access for visitors.
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