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31 Days, 31 Ways: Days, Services at State Parks Cut Back

DAY 26 of our month-long series on the effects of new state laws and budget cuts: 23 of the state's 94 parks face reductions in staff or operations.

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31 Days 31 Ways

Throughout the month of August, The Texas Tribune is featuring 31 ways Texans' lives will change come Sept. 1, the date most bills passed by the Legislature — including the dramatically reduced budget — take effect. Check out our story calendar here.

Day 26: To cope with big budget cuts, some Texas state parks reduce services, close earlier or are open fewer days.

Visitors to Kickapoo Cavern State Park, southwest of San Antonio, can currently visit any day they please to stroll the 1,400-foot length of the cavern, observe the formations and watch bats. Soon, however, the park will pare back its schedule to open only five days a week.

Cutbacks in days, hours and services are coming to parks across the state, after the Legislature slashed the Texas Parks & Wildlife's budget by 21.5 percent. Wyler Aerial Tramway in El Paso, which is part of the park system, will now operate three days per week (plus holidays), instead of five, after losing the equivalent of a handful of full-time staff.

"Twenty-three of the 94 state parks in Texas will experience some reduction in staff, operations or both," said Tom Harvey, a spokesman for the parks agency, though he noted that no parks are expected to close, as had been originally feared. One park system holding, the Sebastopol House State Historic Site in Guadalupe County, is being transferred to local authorities and will now be run by the city of Seguin.

Some parks, Harvey said, will cut back their hours during "non-peak" months, when fewer people tend to visit. And some parks will be accessible by "self-pay" stations during certain hours that would previously have been staffed. The cutbacks are already in effect at some parks; others will see them phased in later.

"It's very sad, when people have less access to the outdoors and less access to state parks, but I think TPWD has done a remarkable job of allocating the resources they were given," said Janice Bezanson, executive director of the Texas Conservation Alliance. Texas parks, she said, have historically been badly underfunded, and the state is "always near the bottom of the list" relative to other states in terms of percentage of acreage devoted to public lands.

Other cuts at Texas Parks & Wildlife will mean fewer fish get produced at hatcheries, and thus there will be less to stock in lakes, and less money to combat invasive species like the giant salvinia, a water weed. Hunter education should see relatively little impact, Harvey said.

All told, the agency — which employs about 3,100 people — has laid off 111 employees. However, a bill in the legislature will make it possible for Texans renewing their annual vehicle registration to donate $5 (or more) to the parks system. The measure is forecast to bring in $3.2 million for the biennium — far less than the $150 million biennium reduction imposed by the Legislature.

Web resources:

Texas Parks & Wildlife State Parks & Destinations page.

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