Record heat, drought and wildfires meant fewer Texans visiting state parks this year, and that meant a steep decline in revenue. Now, as the Texas State Parks and Wildlife Department attempts to recover from devastating fire damage, it is also trying to close a $4.6 million gap in the its 2012 operating budget. That's where the department hopes Texans will come in.
The department held 11 news conferences, announcing its campaign to raise money from Texans to prevent parks from closing down. Historically, visitor fees fund half the department’s $69 million operating budget. In recent years, state park visits were increasing. That trend reversed this summer and fall because of heat, drought and resulting wildfires that damaged the Bastrop, Davis Mountains and Possum Kingdom state parks and prompted temporary closures.
State park revenue this August was 25 percent less than in August 2010. And revenue for this fall is down 11 percent less from last year.
"This is the amount we need to raise to help keep state parks open. We want to alert people now while there is still time to help," said Carter Smith, the department's executive director.
There are three ways the department says Texans can help. They can make a tax-deductible year-end donation. Starting Jan. 1, they can participate in a new program allowing drivers to donate when they renew their motor vehicle registration. Or they can just go visit state parks and pay the fees.
“Cooler weather makes fall and winter a fine time to visit state parks, which are great places for holiday outings and gatherings,” said Brent Leisure, TPWD state parks director. “Also, recent rains are allowing many of our parks to lift burn bans. That’s making campfires possible once again, an important tradition for many park visitors.”
Plus, he said, parks also generate sales tax and income for those who work and live in the counties surrounding state parks.