October 16, 2019
Austin American-Statesman | By Brandon Mulder
Environmental groups are campaigning on behalf of state parks this month, working to get voters to approve a ballot measure in November that would unleash millions of dollars to the state park systems.
Bastrop and Buescher state parks, known as the Lost Pines State Park Complex, are in need of $30 million for repairs and renovations — $21 million for Bastrop State Park and $8.5 million for Buescher State Park — according to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
The burned down loblolly pine forest, with root systems no longer locking soils and sands in place, has allowed floodwaters to erode and alter topography, causing significant damage to roadways. The 2015 Memorial Day flood alone cost $1 million in damage in Bastrop State Park when floodwaters breached a dam, which now needs to be replaced, state park officials have said. Hurricane Harvey caused $6 million in damage to a Buescher State Park dam spillway. Other costs stem from routine building maintenance needs, including renovations to 14 historic cabins and $2.5 million in repairs and upgrades to water systems and campsite utilities.
In the offing is Proposition 5, a constitutional amendment that would dedicate sales tax revenue from sporting goods sales to state parks. Altogether, the state parks department has reported about $800 million in maintenance needs across the state park system’s nearly 100 parks and historic sites. The proposition was added to the November ballot thanks to a bill championed in the last legislative session by state Rep. John Cyrier, R-Lockhart, whose five-county district includes Bastrop State Park, Buescher State Park and Lockhart State Park. If voters approve the measure, 94% of sales tax revenue collected from sporting goods — such as bicycles, fishing rods, hunting gear — would be dedicated to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, specifically for park maintenance needs, and 6% would be dedicated to the Historical Commission.
From the creation of the tax in 1993 to 2017, the state collected $2.5 billion in sporting goods sales tax revenue. About 40% of that revenue went to parks while the rest filtered to other areas of the state budget.
In Bastrop County, the economic impact of both state parks is especially palpable. Economic developers in Smithville, for instance, attribute a lot of the small town’s tourists to the nearby state parks.
Beuscher State Park attracted 42,000 visitors in 2018 with 18,000 overnight stays.
“I can’t tell you how many people say their life goal is to go to every state park. People do that just like people want to visit every courthouse in Texas,” State Park Marketing and Branding Manager Thomas Wilhelm said during a recent meeting on Smithville economic development.
Advocacy groups such as Environment Texas and the Texas Coalition for State Parks are campaigning to make sure voters get the message.
Earlier this month, Environment Texas launched a statewide tour to build support for Proposition 5, through which advocates will tour seven cities and 15 state parks to promote the proposition.
“From camping under the stars at Big Bend Ranch to exploring the cypress swamps of Caddo Lake, our state parks make life better here in Texas,” Executive Director Luke Metzger said in an announcement. “They protect the clean water we depend on and provide a home for some of Texas’ most wondrous wildlife, like the black bear and the leatherback sea turtle. But chronic underfunding has placed a strain on an aging system with outdated infrastructure. Prop 5 is a historic opportunity to make sure our parks get the funds they need and deserve.”
“State parks like Bastrop State Park provide a significant public service by protecting and stewarding the state’s major natural and cultural resources,” Chairman of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission S. Reed Morian said, adding that the park system provided 6,081 jobs last year. “In November, Texas voters will have the opportunity to affirm their support for our parks and historical sites, and ensure that we continue to have a vibrant system that contributes to our economy, protects our natural environment and creates an important source of affordable recreation for Texas families.”
Early voting runs from Oct. 21 to Nov 1. Election day is Nov. 5.