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TEXAS STATE PARKS

Natural Economic Assets

Trees in Brazos Bend State Park in Fort Bend County, Texas

STATE PARK PROFILES

Brazos Bend State Park
Fort Bend County and
Galveston Island State Park
Galveston County

Gulf Coast Region

Editor’s Note: Since our visit in the summer of 2008, Galveston Island State Park suffered significant damage during Hurricane Ike. As we go to print, TPWD is evaluating the condition of this park, and clean-up efforts are ongoing in the coastal region.

Many people associate Houston, the nation’s fourth-largest city, with its status as a world capital for the energy industry, its massive port, its towering skyline, its popular sports franchises and its world-class art museums. The greater Houston area also boasts a collection of some of the most unique and diverse parks in the state, many of which are located within an hour’s drive of downtown.

Staff from the Comptroller’s office visited two of these parks: Brazos Bend State Park in Fort Bend County and Galveston Island State Park in Galveston County. Both are no more than an hour outside of Houston, though the two provide dramatically different experiences for their visitors.

Park staff estimate that there are 300 alligators greater than six feet in length at Brazos Bend State Park.

Brazos Bend State Park is located approximately 30 miles southwest of Houston. The eastern border of the 5,000-acre park abuts the Brazos River for about three miles. The park is best known for its sizable population of alligators. Park staff estimate that there are 300 alligators greater than six feet in length at the park, and they are visible from several observation points near the park’s six lakes throughout the year.

In addition to the bounty it offers wildlife enthusiasts, Brazos Bend is ideal for hikers, boasting 35 miles of trails that provide the only access to much of the park. Other recreational opportunities include fishing, mountain biking and horseback riding. Park staff is working on improving access to the Brazos River, which would open up additional recreational opportunities on the water. The park also hosts the George Observatory, one of the largest public observatories in the nation. Operated by the Houston Museum of Natural Science, the observatory allows public access to its facility on Saturday evenings. The park’s remote location guarantees fantastic views of the night sky. The park has also collaborated closely with Houston Wilderness, a nonprofit organization that has brought together landowners, industry and governmental jurisdictions to create a green belt of open space that one day will completely surround the greater Houston area.

According to Steve Killian, park superintendent, the park has “big upside potential.” Specifically, Killian would like to see additional funds so that the park’s camping facilities could be expanded.He says he must turn away “thousands” of visitors a year because the park’s 91 campsites fill up practically every weekend in the spring, early summer and fall. Killian estimates that doubling the number of Brazos Bend’s camping sites would enable the park to generate even more revenue than it currently does.1 In fiscal 2007, the park brought in $744,855, or $32,562 more than its operating expenses.2

Brazos Bend State Park contributed $2,116,078 in sales and $1,147,210 in personal income to Fort Bend County in 2006.

Even more than the lost revenue, Killian says that the most disappointing thing about turning away eager campers is the knowledge that these visitors will lose out on a unique and rewarding experience. Killian says many of their visitors come from Houston, and the wilderness experience that they get at Brazos Bend simply cannot be found in an urban setting. Killian recognizes that the children visiting Brazos Bend State Park on field trips, scout expeditions and family vacations will grow up to be the next generation of Texas leaders. Killian says “exposure to nature and education about the importance of environmental conservation that visitors receive when visiting Brazos Bend will help build a sense of environmental stewardship that those visitors might miss out on in the city.”

Killian has sought to cater as much as possible to day users, since their experience is not constricted by the park’s shortage of camping sites. Of the park’s approximately 200,000 annual visitors, Killian estimates that roughly three-quarters are day-users.

The park offers a fun, educational and inexpensive day out for families in the Houston area. With that in mind, Killian would like to see additional emphasis focused on advertising and marketing for state parks, particularly in urban areas where citizens have so many activities competing for their attention.

Even if a large-scale advertising campaign is not possible, Killian suggests that his agency should collaborate with the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) so that parks are featured more prominently on official state road maps. Currently, TxDOT maps only identify parks by a number, which is cross-referenced with a list of names. On the other hand, national parks such as Big Bend National Park and Guadalupe Mountains National Park are featured more prominently on these maps. In addition, Killian suggests that Texas should emulate the state of Arkansas, which identifies state parks on road signs with a unique descriptive icon.3

Sandcastles at Galveston State Park in Galveston County, Texas

Galveston Island State Park is located south of Houston within the city limits of Galveston and encompasses 2,013 acres of land.4 The park includes approximately one and a half miles of coast along the Gulf of Mexico south of FM 3005 and extends to Galveston Bay on the north side of the highway. Bordered on both sides by beach homes, condominiums and other development, the park is the only segment of Galveston Island on which there remains an undeveloped, unobstructed corridor between the coast and the bay.5

Galveston Island State Park is one of the most heavily visited parks in Texas. In fiscal 2007 the park saw 243,560 visitors, of whom 105,697 stayed overnight.6 In that year the park received $1,166,205 in revenue, or $418,648 more than its operating expenses. This was the third largest revenue surplus of any state park that year, trailing only Garner State Park and Enchanted Rock State Natural Area.7

Along with other Houston-area parks like Brazos Bend State Park and San Jacinto Battleground State Historic Site, one primary conservation priority at Galveston Island State Park is the restoration and preservation of the unique coastal prairie ecosystem. Although coastal prairie once covered 6.5 million acres in southeast Texas, only 1 percent of that amount remains due to development, overgrazing and other forms of degradation. The prairie provides essential habitat for numerous wildlife species, including hundreds of species of migratory birds, making the prairie’s preservation important to the biological diversity of southeast Texas.

Galveston Island provides numerous amenities for its visitors. Most guests enjoy relaxing on the coast and swimming in the Gulf. However, the less heavily visited section of the park along the bay offers significant attractions of its own. There guests can engage in hiking, bird watching, mountain biking and fishing. Kayaking in Galveston Bay is another activity that has gained in popularity, particularly among day users. Park staff and volunteers recently built a ramp, making the bay fully accessible.

Galveston Island State Park is one of the most heavily visited parks in Texas.

Galveston Island State Park is yet another Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) facility that is heavily dependent on volunteer support. A support group, Friends of Galveston Island State Park, regularly leads interpretive programs and nature hikes on the weekend and staffs the park’s nature center, which otherwise would go unused. The group also has conducted fundraising drives, built new trails and observation decks and repaired existing facilities. Galveston Island State Park also participates in the park host program, where volunteers are provided a campsite to provide visitor contact services in campgrounds and facilitate ongoing service to the park.

Walking on the Beach in Galveston Island State Park in Galveston County, Texas

The deterioration of facilities is one of the most pressing issues at Galveston Island State Park. The park has an iconic, aesthetically attractive architectural style reflected in all of its buildings, which were constructed when the park was acquired in the 1970s. Deterioration has been a major issue due to coastal erosion, salt water and humidity. Many facilities had fallen into serious disrepair because of failure to pay for the upkeep of the buildings. In particular, the park’s restrooms needed to be replaced for several years. The condition of restroom facilities drove many visitor complaints, so this had become a major problem for the park.

Finally, in the 2008-09 budget, the park was appropriated enough money to completely renovate all of the park’s restrooms and other facilities that needed repairs. Sufficient funding in the future is needed to ensure that restrooms and other facilities do not deteriorate.

Angela Deaton, Galveston Island State Park’s superintendent, says that her park is very important to the economy of Galveston and surrounding communities. With campsites ranging from $20 to $25 per night, the park is one of the best deals in town for overnight visitors. Given that Galveston is such a popular tourist destination, the park almost certainly provides consumers who contribute to the island’s economy. On the few occasions that the park has had to close to the public after storm damage, Deaton says that business owners from the nearby community of Jamaica Beach often contact her to inquire when the park is scheduled to reopen. Many visitors to the park will venture to Jamaica Beach to purchase groceries, rent kayaks or enjoy a meal at a restaurant.8

One primary conservation priority at Galveston Island State Park is the restoration and preservation of the unique coastal prairie ecosystem.

Texas First Bank president Sam Dell’Olio concurs in the park’s importance to the area. “The raw acreage surrounding the park is between $8,000 and $10,000 per acre; the concrete buildings nearby are valued about $180 per square foot. The park very definitely adds value to these properties. I think the park adds economic value to the whole Island, not just the West End.”9

Evelyn Merz, chair of the Houston chapter of the Sierra Club, echoes the importance of state parks like Brazos Bend and Galveston Island to the Houston area. Her organization has participated in many programs with local parks to develop and repair the facilities. Her group has also sponsored “inner city outings” to encourage park use by citizens from the Houston region.

Galveston Island State Park contributed $7,354,412 in sales and $2,774,125 in personal income to Galveston County in 2006.

Merz speaks very highly of park staff at all of the Houston-area parks with whom her organization collaborates. She expresses concern that parks must rely so heavily on volunteers to perform many of the essential functions of the parks. For example, Merz is concerned that some parks, including Galveston Island, must rely heavily on volunteers for their interpretive programs, since park staff is obligated with the essential day-to-day activities of keeping the parks up and running. By educating and explaining the value of parks to children and other visitors, interpreters perform a vitally important service. A shortage of staff and a redeployment of volunteers could mean that the programs would be abandoned.

Due to these and other concerns about the condition of state parks, Merz’s organization was very involved in the lobbying push to direct increased funding to TPWD during the 2007 legislative session.

Echoing sentiments that were expressed by Brazos Bend Superintendent Steve Killian, Merz also would like to see increased emphasis on marketing state parks to Houston residents. She says that parks often host wonderful programs that would interest city kids and families, but there is little way for people to learn about the programs, due to a lack of radio and television advertising. Merz also emphasizes that it is important to establish a consistent base level of funding so that state parks do not hit the crisis point reached before the 2007 funding increase.10

According to a study conducted by John Crompton and Juddson Culpepper of Texas A&M University, Brazos Bend State Park contributed $2,116,078 in sales and $1,147,210 in personal income to Fort Bend County in 2006. The park also created 45.4 jobs and generated $10,580 in sales tax revenue for the county in that year. Galveston Island State Park contributed $7,354,412 in sales and $2,774,125 in personal income to Galveston County in 2006. The park also created 172.9 jobs and generated $36,772 in sales tax revenue for the county in that year.11

Summary Economic Impacts
Brazos Bend State Park, Fort Bend County

2006 County Sales 2006 County Resident Income 2006 County Employment (Full-Time Equivalent) 2006 County Sales Tax Generated
$2,116,078 $1,147,210 45.4 $10,580

Source: Texas A&M University.

Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Direct Spending (Fiscal 2007)

Revenues Operating Expenses* Net Income
$744,855 $712,293 $32,562

* Includes salaries, operating expenses and minor (non-capital) repair.

Source: Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

Summary Economic Impacts
Galveston State Park, Galveston County

2006 County Sales 2006 County Resident Income 2006 County Employment (Full-Time Equivalent) 2006 County Sales Tax Generated
$7,354,412 $2,774,125 172.9 $36,772

Source: Texas A&M University.

Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Direct Spending (Fiscal 2007)

Revenues Operating Expenses* Net Income
$1,166,205 $747,557 $418,648

* Includes salaries, operating expenses and minor (non-capital) repair.

Source: Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

Endnotes

  • 1 Interview with Steve Killian, park superintendent, Brazos Bend State Park, Fort Bend County, Texas, July 7, 2008.
  • 2 Data provided by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, “Revenue Less Operating Costs, FY 2006-2007,” with Texas Comptroller’s office calculations. Amounts may not total due to rounding.
  • 3 Interview with Steve Killian, park superintendent, Brazos Bend State Park.
  • 4 Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, “Galveston Island State Park,” p. 2, http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/spdest/findadest/parks/galveston/. (Last visited September 18, 2008.)
  • 5 Interview with Angela Deaton, park superintendent, Galveston Island State Park, Galveston, Texas, July 7, 2008.
  • 6 Data provided by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, “State Park Sites, Acreage, and Visits,” with Texas Comptroller’s office calculations.
  • 7 Data provided by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, “Revenue Less Operating Costs, FY 2006-2007,” with Texas Comptroller’s office calculations.
  • 8 Interview with Angela Deaton, park superintendent, Galveston Island State Park.
  • 9 Interview with Sam Dell’Olio, president, Texas First Bank, Galveston, Texas, July 29, 2008.
  • 10 Interview with Evelyn Merz, group chair, Sierra Club Houston Regional Group, Houston, Texas, July 7, 2008.
  • 11 Texas Coalition for Conservation, The Economic Contributions of Texas State Parks in FY 2006, by John L. Crompton and Juddson Culpepper, Texas A&M University, Department of Recreation, Park and Tourism Sciences (Austin, Texas, December 2006), http://rptsweb.tamu.edu/faculty/Crompton/Crompton/Articles/3.10.pdf. (Last visited September 18, 2008.)
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