AUSTIN (KXAN) — Texas lawmakers are behind in upkeep of state parks by more than $750 million dollars, according to information provided to a state senate committee earlier this year.
Ten million people visit Texas state parks and historic sites each year.
In 1993, lawmakers dedicated money from the sporting goods sales tax to state parks. Over the years, however, they’ve re-routed that money to other items in the Texas budget. Parks received less than half of the funding since 1993.
That’s getting Central Texas State lawmakers Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, and Rep. John Cyrier, R-Lockhart, to pass a constitutional amendment and get voters to approve it this November — requiring lawmakers to spend all that sporting goods tax on state parks. First the idea must get two-thirds of each chamber in the Texas legislature.
Lawmakers have until the end of May to pass the idea.
What taxdollars can do
Infusing money could make many parks look like Balmorhea State Park today, which is going through a massive overhaul — but not just through state dollars.
Think of Balmorhea State Park as Barton Springs in the desert. The park highlights scenic vistas, onlooking wildlife and water always between 72 to 76 degrees. Right now, it’s going through $9 million in construction projects, restorations and upgrades. The last time something like this happened here, it was the 1970s.
Five endangered animals live in the park’s San Solomon Springs, along with thousands of people a year who visit.
“Ten thousand years ago there were people coming here attracted to the water. So water is very attractive to people, especially in the desert,” said Carolyn Rose, park superintendent.
Workers are renovating the courts, originally built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s, redoing the infrastructure throughout the campground and they just finished rebuilding the pool wall after erosion caused it to collapse.
This prompeted the oil and gas producer Apache Corporation to offer a $1 million matching grant and another $1 million endowment to help with upkeep.
“Balmorhea State Park is a real Texas treasure and an iconic asset for the community,” said Apache Corporation CEO and President John J. Christmann IV.
Christmann writes that he hopes the donations,” supplement the park’s existing budget and incrementally fund improvements over time to help ensure the pool and the park can be enjoyed for generations to come.”
Another $1 million was raised by donors to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation.
Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation Executive Director Anne Brown said of the donation, “The incredible response from Texas companies and Texas citizens who chipped in demonstrates just how much people love Balmorhea’s pool.”
Rose is grateful for the resources. “I actually love all of West Texas. This is a really unique area because you’ve got such incredible history and also nature coming together, and I really like that interface between the two.”
This kind of work could be coming to other parks, if lawmakers dedicate the money this legislative session.
State Parks are funded money from sporting good sales tax, fishing/hunting permits and entry fees. Apache also began a $1 million endowment to benefit the park.