An excellent summary of the Texas state park system's current troubles was provided yesterday by Rick Casey, former columnist for the San Antonio Express-News and current columnist for the Houston Chronicle. (His move a few years back was a big loss for our local paper.) Some excerpts:
It seemed like a great idea about 15 years ago.
Texas state parks had always been a budgetary stepchild, so the Legislature decided to dedicate some of the money from the tax on sales of sporting goods to fund the parks.
They didn't want to gold-plate the parks, you understand, so the fund would be capped at $32 million. That amount would also include some money for development of city and county parks.
But a few years ago, the legislators who couldn't properly fund schools or health insurance for children in low-income families not surprisingly also decided they couldn't properly fund parks.
They cut the $32 million for parks, which had been set way back in 1993 and had not been adjusted for inflation, to about $20 million.
At first the state Department of Parks and Wildlife responded the way organizations typically do when their budgets are pinched.
"Last year we ran out of wiggle room," said Parks Director Walt Dabney. "In November we eliminated 73 positions and cut back operations in about 50 parks."
What we have is a parks system that is held together by rubber bands.
The average age of the system's vehicles is 10 years, with an average of about one new vehicle purchase a year in the past four years.
At Choke Canyon there is no potable water because the water system hasn't been repaired. Repairs from Hurricane Rita at the Sabine Pass Battleground State Historical Site and at Martin Dies Jr. State Park near Jasper aren't expected to be completed until summer 2008 at the earliest.
Many facilities are open only Fridays through Sundays, and many have discontinued or curtailed overnight camping.
The B and B team visited Choke Canyon State Park, two hours south of our base, a couple Mondays ago for one of our excellent birding adventures (which I hope to write up something about soon). Fortunately, we had plenty of our own water, as we were surprised to find out there was no water in the park. Now, thanks to Casey, we know the reason why.
I was not surprised to find out that Choke Canyon had eliminated overnight camping, as I had read about that when the cuts hit last fall. But I was surpised and disappointed to discover that we would be kicked out of the campground area near the shoreline of the lake, where we having a very productive and enjoyable birding afternoon, at 4:30 PM—with hours of daylight left.
Choke Canyon is a fine park that deserves better treatment than this. Our state can do better.
(Via By the Bayou.)