FAIRFIELD, Texas (KXAN) — A Texas state park is set to permanently close later this month to be turned into a multi-million dollar development. Now, a state representative is trying to prevent that, filing a bill to allow the state to acquire the land through eminent domain.
Fairfield Lake State Park, located in Freestone County about 70 miles east of Waco, will close permanently on Feb. 28, after almost 50 years of public access.
Vistra Energy owns the land and leases it to the state at no cost. Now, the company has given the state 120 days to vacate before the land is turned over to a new owner.
That new owner, Todd Interests, plans to transform the park into an exclusive community with multi-million dollar homes and a private golf course, according to the Dallas Morning News.
When a coal plant located on the lake closed in 2018, Vistra gave the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department a two-year notice that it intended to terminate the lease in October 2020, according to Meranda Cohn, a spokesperson for Vistra. The lease was extended further until fall 2022, contingent upon the sale of the land.
During that time, Vistra publicly listed the property in 2021. In a statement Tuesday, TPWD Executive Director David Yoskowitz said the department has “worked diligently” to find a solution to allow the department to purchase all or part of the park.
Cohn says despite Vistra encouraging the state to submit a bid to purchase the land, it did not. Therefore, the company moved forward with a contract with Todd Interests.
KXAN has reached out to Todd Interests but has not yet received a reply.
“This is an unprecedented loss of a state treasure for Texans,” Yoskowitz said. “The demand for outdoor recreation exceeds supply in Texas, so losing even one state park is a set-back for all of us who enjoy publicly accessible lands.”
The 1,460-acre park opened in 1976 and sees around 80,000 visitors each year, according to TPWD. The department said the park is known for horseback riding, family reunions, paddling, fishing, camping and hiking.
“This treasured piece of Texas has blessed our local families and countless visitors for generations, and losing it is hard to comprehend,” said State Rep. Angelia Orr (R-Itasca). The park lies within her district. “I join park lovers in Freestone County and across the state in expressing my sincere disappointment in hearing this news.”
Orr filed a bill Tuesday to allow Texas to acquire the land through eminent domain. House Bill 2332 says TPWD has invested more than $70 million in the development and operation of the park and that the state has a “vested interest in preserving and protecting state parks.”
Eminent domain in Texas can only be used if the land involved is acquired for a public purpose and the landowner is adequately compensated, according to the State of Texas Landowner’s Bill of Rights. The property for sale also covers the entirety of Fairfield Lake, as well as more than 800 acres of land outside the state park. It is currently listed for more than $110 million.
For now, park staff are moving forward with plans to close on Feb. 28. Staff will remove equipment, and access to two public boat ramps and a fishing pier will be closed. TPWD said it will also contact more than 2,700 people who have already booked overnight reservations at the park after the closure date.
“We are proud to have made this privately-owned land available to generations of Texans for the past 50 years – more than 25 years beyond the original lease and at no cost to the State,” Cohn said.
Vistra also leases land to the state at Martin Creek Lake State Park, in Rusk County, and at Lake Colorado City State Park, in Mitchell County. It also leases more than 1,000 acres for public hunting in Robertson County.