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Infrastructure – Parks and Recreation

The Gulf Coast region is home to several state parks and historic sites that showcase its scenic beauty and cultural heritage. The state park with the most significant economic impact in 2006 was Galveston Island State Park, which was heavily damaged by Hurricane Ike in September 2008 and closed to the public for several months as a result. The park has been partially restored and reopened to day visitors in March 2009, with both Bayside and Beachside camping areas opened in July. The region’s park receiving the largest number of visitors in fiscal 2008 is the San Jacinto Battlefield/Battleship Texas Complex (Exhibit 36).

In addition to these parks, the region has several state wildlife management areas (WMAs). Most are primitive, lacking facilities and drinking water, and are primarily dedicated to wetland and ecosystem preservation along with hunting. Birdwatchers, however, are likely to be familiar with some of the areas, such as the Candy Cain Abshier WMA and Mad Island WMA, due to their location on major migratory pathways. The Gulf Coast region is also home to numerous county and local parks. Houston in particular has many well-known parks, including Hermann Park, Buffalo Bayou Park and Sam Houston Park, the city’s first.41

The Sam Houston National Forest, about 50 miles north of Houston, is one of four in Texas. Evidence of human occupation in the forest dates back 12,000 years.

Exhibit 36

Economic Impact of State Parks, Gulf Coast Region

Name Number of Visitors FY 2008 2006 Total Economic Impact on Sales 2006 Spending by Visitors
Stephen F. Austin State Park 39,331 $1,411,721 $667,974
Brazos Bend State Park 187,540 $2,116,078 $797,215
Galveston Island State Park 176,854 $7,354,412 $4,729,620
Battleship Texas/San Jacinto Complex 231,662 $4,517,213 $1,793,917
Sheldon Lake State Park and Environmental Learning Center 51,312 n/a n/a
Davis Hill State Park (Site closed pending development) 0 0 0
Huntsville State Park 143,936 $2,436,257 $1,308,735

Note: Economic data were not available for Sheldon Lake State Park.
Sources: Texas A&M University and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

The Sam Houston National Forest, about 50 miles north of Houston, is one of four in Texas. Evidence of human occupation in the forest dates back 12,000 years. The forest was previously home to Atakapan-speaking groups who were displaced by European settlers; a number of archeological sites in the forest are off-limits to visitors. The forest is managed under the Multiple-Use Sustained-Yield Act of 1960, which authorizes the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture to maintain natural surface resources in national forests in the most sustainable, ecologically viable way possible.

The forest offers several recreation opportunities, including the 128-mile Lone Star Hiking Trail, a portion of which follows the banks of Lake Conroe and heads west toward the Little Lake Creek Wilderness area. The forest also includes three developed campgrounds, some featuring full-service hook-ups, picnicking units and bike trails. Boating and fishing activities are also allowed in the forest.

The forest allows hunting, with deer as the most popular game animal. It also provides excellent habitat for endangered bald eagles, which are often sighted in the winter. Other endangered species found in the forest include the red-cockaded woodpecker, with its distinctive large white cheek patches.

Natural resource management is a key component of the forest’s continued development. When the federal government purchased the land in 1934, much of it was undeveloped, with many areas denuded by logging. Today, the federal government maintains the forest under a sustainable-yield principle so that it will continue to produce timber to meet future needs. The forest also benefits from a fire management system that not only prevents and suppresses potential fires but also initiates controlled burns preventing the dangerous accumulation of tinder.

Some private entities maintain mineral rights within the forest as part of the federal government’s original purchase agreement. These entities can extract minerals including energy resources from the area.42

In 1990, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation purchased and established the 207-acre Candy Cain Abshier Wildlife Management Area in Chambers County, along Galveston Bay and Trinity Bay. Candy Cain Abshier WMA is a mix of coastal plains, live oak stands and freshwater ponds that attract diverse wildlife, named in honor of Catherine “Candy” Cain Abshier, a former employee of Texas Parks and Wildlife.

Candy Cain Abshier WMA is best known as a popular stopover spot for migrating birds. Each August through November the Gulf Coast Bird Observatory sponsors the popular hawk watch. While birds of prey are annual visitors, it is not uncommon to see hummingbirds, swallows and flocks of wood storks. Thousands of migrating birds in the spring and fall make the Candy Cain Abshier WMA a popular stop along the Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail.44

Recreational Lakes and Reservoirs

Only two of the Gulf Coast region’s water-supply reservoirs, Lakes Conroe and Houston, are also used for recreation purposes; many of the reservoirs are privately owned by industry or power companies. Lakes in two of the region’s state parks offer fishing opportunities (Exhibit 37).

Exhibit 37

Gulf Coast Region, Recreational Lakes and Reservoirs

Name Location Size Maximum Depth
Lake Conroe 7 miles northwest of Conroe 20,118.0 acres 72 feet
Lake Houston 15 miles northeast of Houston 11,854.0 acres 45 feet
Lake Raven Huntsville State Park in Walker County 203.5 acres 28 feet
Sheldon Lake Carpenter Bayou on the edge of Houston 1,230.0 acres 10 feet

Source: Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

Hunting and Fishing

Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) sold more than 554,000 licenses to hunters and fishermen in the Gulf Coast region in 2008. These sales generated in excess of $17 million in revenue, all of which went to a dedicated state fund supporting the conservation and management of the state’s fish and wildlife.45

Every county in the region offers legal hunting of some sort, and several offer hunting year-round (Exhibit 38).

The Gulf Coast region also features freshwater fishing opportunities in its rivers and lakes. Common species in the region include bass, crappie, catfish and sunfish.

Exhibit 38

Applicable Hunting Regulations, Gulf Coast Region

Animal Season
White-tailed Deer Open season lasts from November 7 until January 3. Most counties in the region also have a special youth-only late season in January.

Archery season lasts from October 3 until November 6.

A special youth-only season occurs from October 31 until November 1.
Pheasant Chambers and Liberty counties have open season from October 31 – February 28. Bag limit 3 cocks, possession limit 6 cocks.
Squirrel In Chambers, Galveston, Harris, Liberty Montgomery and Walker counties, squirrel season is open October 1 – February 7 and May 1-31, with a daily limit of 10. In the rest of the region’s counties, squirrel season is open year-round with no limit.
Turkey Spring Season is April 1-30, 2010. Austin, Chambers, Galveston, Harris and Waller counties have no turkey hunting; Colorado County’s spring season is for Rio Grande birds, the remaining counties have Eastern turkey hunting, all limited to one gobbler.
Quail Open season lasts from October 31 until February 28. Daily bag limit: 15; possession limit: 45.
Dove The season for dove is as follows: Central Zone: September 1 – October 25 and December 26 – January 9. South Zone: September 18 – November 3 and December 26 – January 17.

Source: Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

Matagorda Island

PHOTO: Texas Parks and Wildlife Department


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