October 28, 2019
Austin American-Statesman | By Joseph Fitzsimons
On November 5, Texans can help protect the heritage and character of Texas by voting yes for Proposition 5. The great Texas naturalist Roy Bedichek once wrote that outdoor living slows and softens us, quieting our nerves and steadying our minds. Couldn’t we all use a little more calm these days?
Texas is an urban state. Roughly 90 percent of Texans live in metropolitan areas. As more and more people move to the Lone Star state, fewer new Texas have access to the outdoors. Today, over 95 percent of Texas’s land is privately owned.
More Texans are having to go farther to find real wilderness — and the peace of mind that comes with it.
The good news, for those seeking respite from their metropolitan bubbles, is that Texas has some of the most beautiful and coveted state parks anywhere, and we have an opportunity in November to preserve, protect and enhance them for future generations.
All told, there are 95 state parks and historical sites across Texas, each one doing its part to preserve our natural environment and instill in Texans a love and appreciation of the great outdoors — an intrinsic piece of Texas heritage, culture and way of life.
The bad news is that Texas parks and historic sites have been chronically underfunded for decades. There is a more than $800 million backlog of deferred maintenance projects across the state. And with so many millions of visitors each year, the already outdated infrastructure is becoming strained. Currently, the parks welcome over 10 million visitors each year.
Though it’s encouraging that so many Texans and visitors want to experience and enjoy these natural treasures, it also leaves us with a clear charge. If we are to meet growing demand and ensure future generations can enjoy the great outdoors, we must commit to invest in the parks and we must do it now. Specifically, the park system needs a dedicated stream of funding. That is exactly what Proposition 5 will do.
The constitutional amendment (one of 10 on the ballot this fall) will dedicate revenue from the Sporting Goods Sales Tax so those dollars can only be used by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and the Texas Historical Commission on public parks and historic sites — all without imposing any new taxes or fees. It would be a permanent, dedicated stream of funding that would sustain the parks for years to come.
A YES vote on Prop. 5 on Nov. 5 will protect Texas’s natural areas and historic sites, so we don’t lose the very things that make Texas a special place to live. Generations of Texans have worked and enjoyed the land. It’s part of our culture, our way of life and our traditions. For this to continue, the next generation of Texans will need to have a deep appreciation for our roots, including our natural environment.
Let’s make sure they have the same access and opportunity to enjoy our land and heritage, so that, to borrow Bedichek’s words, “a thousand years from now, friends such as we will wander over these same hills inhaling the same scents and feasting their eyes upon the same beauty.”
Let’s preserve what’s important. Vote YES on Prop. 5.
Fitzsimons is the former chair of the Texas Parks & Wildlife Commission, and the co-founder of the Texas Coalition for State Parks