TEXAS STATE PARKS
Natural Economic Assets
Many Texans have idyllic memories of time spent with family and friends in natural settings. As the number of urban Texans increases and cities expand ever outward, our state parks — and the experiences they offer — have become increasingly important.
While Texans enjoy the green colors of nature, others are enjoying green of another sort – the cash earned by local businesses catering to park visitors and the economic growth it generates.
Texas has 93 state parks, historical sites and natural areas that contain a total of 586,501 acres in 98 counties (Exhibit 1 and Exhibit 2).1 Texas has a total land area of 167.5 million acres; state parks occupy one-third of 1 percent of that total.2 State parks hosted 2.3 million overnight visitors and 6.7 million day visitors in 2007.3
Texas Parks System Map
Source: Texas Parks and Wildlife Department
Total Visitors to Texas Parks, 2007
|Site Name||Total Visits Fiscal Year 2007||Percent of Overnight Visitors||Acreage||County||Site Type|
|Cedar Hill||531,153||14.7||1,811||Dallas||State Park|
|San Jacinto Monument, Battleground and Battleship Texas||415,817||–||1,216||Harris||State Historic Site|
|Goose Island||371,519||16.2||321||Aransas||State Park|
|Mustang Island||342,256||13.5||4,094||Nueces||State Park|
|Palo Duro Canyon||301,931||15.8||26,275||Armstrong/ Randall||State Park|
|Brazos Bend||258,378||19.5||4,975||Fort Bend||State Park|
|Galveston Island||243,560||43.4||2,007||Galveston||State Park|
|Ray Roberts Lake||235,384||37.8||5,538||Cooke/ Denton/ Grayson||State Park|
|Lake Casa Blanca||234,873||18||371||Webb||State Park|
|Dinosaur Valley||217,852||12.9||1,587||Somervell||State Park|
|Enchanted Rock||195,891||19.5||1,644||Gillespie||State Natural Area|
|Pedernales Falls||185,596||23.2||5,212||Blanco||State Park|
|Lake Livingston||183,569||36||636||Polk||State Park|
|Lake Somerville||181,832||25.2||5,520||Burleson/ Lee||State Park|
|Lyndon B. Johnson||161,077||0.5||718||Gillespie||State Park and Historic Site|
|Inks Lake||142,824||73.2||1,201||Burnet||State Park|
|Lake Mineral Wells and Trailway||132,245||40.7||3,282||Parker/ Palo Pinto||State Park|
|McKinney Falls||124,539||34.7||725||Travis||State Park|
|Guadalupe River –Honey Creek||117,906||40.8||4,232||Comal/ Kendall||State Park|
|Choke Canyon||108,471||8.6||3,786||Live Oak/ McMullen||State Park|
|Caprock Canyons and Trailways||105,888||10.4||15,280||Briscoe/ Floyd/ Hall||State Park|
|Purtis Creek||104,855||24.7||1,582||Henderson/ Van Zandt||State Park|
|Washington-on-the-Brazos||103,973||–||293||Washington||State Historic Site|
|Cooper Lake||101,487||21.4||3,026||Delta/ Hopkins||State Park|
|Lake Arrowhead||98,998||15||524||Clay||State Park|
|Davis Mountains||98,101||59.8||2,709||Jeff Davis||State Park|
|Fort Parker||93,123||22.9||1,448||Limestone||State Park|
|Lake Corpus Christi||90,459||42.8||14,156||San Patricio||State Park|
|Lost Maples||87,804||22.6||2,174||Bandera/ Real||State Natural Area|
|Lake Whitney||84,694||37.9||1,315||Hill||State Park|
|Lake Tawakoni||80,247||26.8||376||Hunt||State Park|
|Stephen F. Austin||76,966||43.4||487||Austin||State Park|
|Caddo Lake||75,583||30.3||484||Harrison||State Park|
|Lake Brownwood||74,195||55.1||538||Brown||State Park|
|Martin Creek Lake||71,911||38.2||287||Rusk||State Park|
|Sheldon Lake||69,096||–||2,605||Harris||State Park|
|Colorado Bend||67,227||21||5,328||Lampasas/ San Saba||State Park|
|Lake Bob Sandlin||66,427||34.8||640||Titus||State Park|
|Lake Texana||63,186||63.7||575||Jackson||State Park|
|Possum Kingdom||58,103||52.3||1,529||Palo Pinto||State Park|
|Monahans Sandhills||55,321||12.6||3,840||Ward/ Winkler||State Park|
|South Llano River||55,212||52.5||524||Kimble||State Park|
|Seminole Canyon||54,017||17.3||2,173||Val Verde||State Park and Historic Site|
|Fairfield Lake||53,650||55.5||1,460||Freestone||State Park|
|World Birding Center –
Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley
|Franklin Mountains||49,358||1.5||24,150||El Paso||State Park|
|Fort Richardson||48,880||35.2||477||Jack||State Park and Historic Site|
|Goliad||48,747||25.3||188||Goliad||State Park and Historic Site|
|Port Isabel Lighthouse*||48,000||–||1||Cameron||State Historic Site|
|Government Canyon||43,999||–||8,620||Bexar||State Natural Area|
|Lake Colorado City||42,960||35.4||500||Mitchell||State Park|
|Longhorn Caverns**||41,353||–||653||Burnet||State Park|
|Big Spring||35,663||1.6||382||Howard||State Park|
|Village Creek||33,475||18.5||1,090||Hardin||State Park|
|Hill Country||33,160||20.9||5,370||Bandera/ Medina||State Natural Area|
|San Angelo||30,702||50.1||7,063||Tom Green||State Park|
|Martin Dies, Jr.||30,542||38.7||705||Jasper/ Tyler||State Park|
|Hueco Tanks||23,286||17.4||860||El Paso||State Park and Historic Site|
|Mother Neff||19,313||18.5||259||Coryell||State Park|
|Big Bend Ranch||19,131||28.5||301,319||Brewster/ Presidio||State Park|
|Copper Breaks||16,446||18.5||1,899||Hardeman||State Park|
|Mission Tejas||14,898||28.3||660||Houston||State Park|
|Fort Boggy||12,648||–||1,847||Leon||State Park|
|Monument Hill –Kreische Brewery||8,949||–||40||Fayette||State Historic Site|
|World Birding Center –Estero Llano Grande||7,315||–||153||Hidalgo||State Park|
|Fort Leaton||2,893||–||23||Presidio||State Historic Site|
|Sebastopol House||2,312||–||2||Guadalupe||State Historic Site|
|Devil’s Sinkhole||1,880||–||1,860||Edwards||State Natural Area|
|Fanthorp Inn||1,829||–||1||Grimes||State Historic Site|
|Devil’s River||821||–||19,989||Val Verde||State Natural Area|
|Kickapoo Cavern||713||–||6,368||Edwards/ Kinney||State Park|
|Chinati Mountains||(Not open currently)||–||37,885||Presidio||State Natural Area|
|Davis Hill||(Not open currently)||–||1,737||Liberty||State Park|
|Lipantitlan||(Not staffed –visitation not tracked)||–||5||Nueces||State Historic Site|
|Sea Rim||(Closed due to Hurricane Rita damage)||–||4,141||Jefferson||State Park|
|World Birding Center –
Resaca de la Palma
|(Not open currently)||–||1,200||Cameron||State Park|
* Park is operated by the city of Port Isabel; estimated visitor count represents October 2006 – September 2007.
** Park is privately operated; visitor count represents calendar year 2007.
Source: Texas Parks and Wildlife Department
Residences of Out-of-State Visitors to Texas State Parks, Fiscal 2007
Source: Texas Parks and Wildlife Department
Of the 2.3 million overnight visitors, almost 72,500 or 3.1 percent were from outside of Texas. Exhibit 3 highlights the top 15 residences of out-of-state U.S. visitors, foreign visitors and those who are unknown to Texas state parks in fiscal 2007.
State parks hosted 2.3 million overnight visitors and 6.7 million day visitors
Of the foreign visitors to Texas parks in 2007, 45.8 percent came from Canada, 30.4 percent from Germany, 11.8 percent from the United Kingdom and 5.5 percent from Mexico.4
State parks provide inexpensive and easily accessible recreational opportunities that are increasingly valuable in an era of record-high gasoline prices. While fees vary, most park entrance fees are only a few dollars per person. Primitive campsites (those with no water or electricity) rent for about $12 per night. Campsites with water rent for about $15 per night, while high-end, large cabins for eight or more people cost $200 or more per night.5
The travel organization AAA found recently that more than half of its members in Texas are cutting back on driving and eating out; 9 percent were canceling planned vacations. Members with annual household incomes of less than $50,000 were most likely to take such actions to reduce gasoline consumption.6 The number of Texas park visitors will likely increase as more Texans decide to vacation closer to home.
Texas funds its parks system through a dedicated portion of the 6.25 percent state sales tax attributable to sales of sporting goods equipment. Until recently, the portion the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) received for the park system was capped in state law at $32 million biennially, with the remainder going to the General Revenue Fund.
The 2007 Legislature, however, repealed that cap with House Bill 12, which allows TPWD to receive appropriations each biennium in an amount to be determined by the Legislature. The same legislation transferred 18 historical sites from TPWD to the Texas Historical Commission as of January 1, 2008. The Legislature then increased funding for state park operations in the 2008-09 biennium by $96.4 million, a 79.7 percent increase over the previous biennium. This funding increase includes:
The number of Texas park visitors will likely increase as more Texans decide to vacation closer to home.
- $43.7 million for park operating costs and 229.3 new full-time equivalent employees (FTEs);
- $9.4 million for new vehicles, equipment and technology for the park system;
- $7.0 million for state park minor repairs (projects with an average cost of $25,000 or less); and
- $36.3 million for additional local park grants.7
This increase in funding followed multiple news reports and public testimony concerning equipment failures, staff shortages, overcrowding and other problems at state parks across Texas.
In 2007, Texas voters approved a constitutional amendment, Proposition Four, approving the sale of state general obligation bonds in coming years to fund major infrastructure projects throughout the state. The Legislature authorized TPWD to receive a small portion – $52.1 million – of this bond revenue. Almost half of this amount, or $25 million, is dedicated to repairs for the battleship Texas, harbored at the San Jacinto State Historical Site near Houston. The remainder is dedicated to park repairs.8
TPWD provides local governments with grants, depending upon legislative appropriations, for the acquisition and development of local parklands. Since fiscal 2000, these grants have ranged from $2.7 million to $15.3 million annually. Additional funding increased the estimated fiscal 2008 funding to $32.2 million.
In fiscal 2007, park fee revenues were $34.6 million, according to TPWD’s fiscal 2010-2011 Request for Legislative Appropriations.9
In addition to increasing TPWD’s funding, the Legislature included a Rider 30 in the department’s 2008-09 budget that directed the agency to commission a business plan analyzing the necessity and impact of proposed repairs and new construction. Rider 30 required TPWD to determine whether repairs would generate increased park attendance and the additional revenues needed to cover their costs.
In March 2008, TPWD released this business plan, which was prepared for the department by the team of Fisher-Heck Architects and Pros Consulting LLC. The results of the report were clear: The return on capital investment in state parks is expected to reap gains well in excess of costs.
The state enjoys a significant return when it invests in its parks.
The report found that 77 percent of the proposed capital projects would either lead to an increase in attendance at state parks or would prevent a decline in attendance. Similarly, 82 percent of the projects would increase revenues or prevent erosion in existing revenues. These findings indicate that Texas’ upkeep of its parks is an important priority and that the state enjoys a significant return when it invests in its parks.
The business plan recommended that all of TPWD’s recommended capital projects be authorized to address immediately deteriorated facilities and infrastructure at parks throughout the state. Failure to perform the recommended actions would lead to “deterioration of state assets, negative impacts on park usage, decreased financial performance of state parks, and increased costs to the State of Texas for the eventual need to perform these repairs.”10
According to Kevin Good, special assistant to the director of the State Parks Division at TPWD, the investment in additional staff and repairs will improve the experience of visitors to each state park. Increased funds will allow the agency to address facilities that have needed repair for many years. In many cases, these deteriorating facilities had been the source of visitor complaints. For example, several park superintendents interviewed for this report emphasized that park visitors would comment upon the run-down state of restroom facilities at many state parks. Superintendent Todd McClanahan at Bastrop State Park suggested that a clean, functional restroom was one of the primary factors determining whether a park visitor had a positive or negative experience at his state park. Recognizing this fact, TPWD prioritized 18 separate repair projects for restrooms at state parks in fiscal 2008 and 2009.
State parks are important public assets that provide benefits for Texas citizens.
Repair projects such as these likely will have a positive impact on visitors’ experiences and may contribute to increased visitation. Because many of these repair projects have only recently been completed or are currently pending, the impact of the increased funding for state parks in the current budget has not yet been assessed. Further complicating the picture, increased funding is only one of many factors that will influence state park attendance. Other factors include gas prices, economic trends, weather and publicity, some of which resulted from increased public attention to the condition of the state parks system before the 2007 legislative session.
Clearly, state parks are important public assets that provide benefits for Texas citizens, just as do schools, universities and highways. Without maintenance and investment, these assets are diminished. Investment in state parks ensures that these resources remain available for enjoyment by future generations of Texans.
- 1 The actual number of parks may be counted several ways. A few parks have separate parcels of land, which Texas Parks and Wildlife Department staff refers to as units. Thus, one park may constitute two or more units. There are 123 units in all. Of the 93 parks, the department leases 17 from the U.S. Corps of Engineers, cities, counties or other entities. It also leases out two parks – one to a private entity and one to a city.
- 2 Elizabeth Cruce Alvarez, ed., Texas Almanac 2006-2007, Sesquicentennial Edition (Dallas: Dallas Morning News: 2006), p. 69. The Almanac reference is to the state’s total land area in square miles; Comptroller calculations converted that to acres. The percentage of parkland is based on these data and those supplied by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, June 2, 2008.
- 3 Data provided by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, “State Park Sites, Acreage, Visits,” with Texas Comptroller’s office calculations. Visitor counts for Longhorn Caverns, which is privately operated, and the Lighthouse at Port Isabel, which is operated by the city of Port Isabel, were obtained from staff at each facility on June 30, 2008.
- 4 Data provided by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, “FY07 Out of State Visitation Stats,” with Texas Comptroller’s office calculations.
- 5 Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, “Lodging & Other Indoor Overnight Facilities” http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/spdest/parkinfo/facilities/lodging/. (Last visited August 19, 2008.)
- 6 AAA Texas, “AAA Texas Member Survey Reveals Habit Changes As Result of Record Gas Prices,” Irving, Texas, May 29, 2008. (Press release.)
- 7 Texas Legislative Budget Board, Fiscal Size-Up 2008-09 Biennium (Austin, Texas, March 2008), p. 358, http://www.lbb.state.tx.us/Fiscal_Size-up/Fiscal%20Size-up%202008-09.pdf. (Last visited August 28, 2008.)
- 8 Texas S.J.R. 65 and Texas S.B. 2033, 80th Leg., Reg. Sess. (2007). For more detailed information, see Texas House Research Organization, Constitutional Amendments Proposed for November 2007 Ballot, Prop. 4: General obligation bonds for state agency construction and repair projects (Austin, Texas, August 24, 2007), p. 14, http://www.hro.house.state.tx.us/frame4.htm#const. (Last visited July 23, 2008.)
- 9 Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Request for Legislative Appropriations, Fiscal Years 2010 and 2011, (Austin, Texas, August 20, 2008,) “Estimated Revenue Collections Supporting Schedule, 6.E.,” page 4 of 17. See subaccount 3461, “State Parks Fees,” for the actual collections in fiscal year 2007.
- 10 Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Business Plan Update, Assessment of Capital Projects – Rider 30 (A), by Pros Consulting, LLC (Austin, Texas, March 2008), pp. 2, http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/publications/nonpwdpubs/media/tpwd_rider_30a_final_report.pdf. (Last visited July 24, 2008.) (Consultant’s report.)