Bond Issue ‘Saves’ Aged Texas State Parks
New cabins are going up, ancient bathrooms are being refurbished and campgrounds are being modernized this summer and fall as a long-overdue makeover gains steam at more than 40 Texas state parks, according to the Dallas Morning News.
One of the biggest beneficiaries is the 528-acre Cleburne State Park, where a new two-dorm group barracks has just been completed. Construction of a store and bathhouse will start in midsummer. Also included in the park’s $2.84 million upgrade is the reconstruction of an eroded and overgrown beach at its 116-acre spring-fed lake.
“This is going to be enormous for this park,” said Assistant Superintendent Robert Rinn. “It’s going to change the culture of the park.”
The Cleburne park, in southwest Johnson County, is one of more than 40 state parks where rejuvenation projects will start this year, said Scott Boruff, deputy executive director of operations for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
“For the last decade we have been fighting to bring the parks back up to standard, and we are now holding our own on repairs to infrastructure,” Boruff said. “But there will also be a recognizable difference for what the public sees in the form of better maintenance, cleaner bathrooms and nicer campgrounds.”
The $44 million for repairs and renovations is coming from general obligation bonds approved in 2007 by the Legislature and a statewide vote in the wake of a public outcry over the park system’s long neglect.
The biggest chunk, $25 million, will be used to dry-berth the Battleship Texas, which has been deteriorating from the corrosive seawater in the Houston Ship Channel.
The cash infusion has “saved our parks,” said John Cobb, president of Texans for State Parks, noting that the state is 50th in per-capita spending on parks. “Without this, we would be shutting down parks because of the cost of keeping them running. That’s how bad the infrastructure had deteriorated.”
Aging sewer, water and electrical systems were first in line for many of the repairs, but more readily noticeable repairs to playgrounds, trail systems, shelters, pools and cabins are now being made, said Cobb, who estimates that he has visited 40 parks in the past 12 months.
“This sounds silly,” he said, “but if you go in the restrooms and cabins, they have modern fixtures and efficient air-conditioning units.”
Roads have been patched, dilapidated buildings have been spruced up and the green spaces are freshly mowed, he said. “When you go in the gate, the parks look cleaner. The stores are better. The little things add up.”
Garner State Park, the most popular in the 93-park system, is getting the next biggest share of makeover money – nearly $4 million. Garner is in Uvalde County, west of San Antonio.
Garner’s 17 cabins, most built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the 1930s, are getting their first complete refurbishing, said Lisa Fitzsimmons, the park’s office manager. “They are gutting them all the way to the frame. It will take two years, working five cabins at a time.”
All told, rustic CCC buildings are being repaired at seven parks, officials said.
Also on the list is replacement of two dilapidated cabins at Possum Kingdom State Park near Mineral Wells, at a cost of $676,000. The new cabins will have more space and be handicapped-accessible.
Almost $3 million in work is planned at Lake Whitney State Park, about 70 miles south of Fort Worth. The work list includes upgraded electrical systems that will accommodate modern camping vehicles, new restrooms and shelter improvements.
At Cleburne State Park, the new group barracks will feature 22-bed men’s and women’s wings with modern bathrooms, a kitchen and a breezeway in between, Rinn said.
“We think it’s going to be really popular for family reunions, Scout groups and even businesses,” he said. “It will be in demand.”
A decrepit concession store has been torn down, and work will begin later this year on a new store building that will also include a kitchen and an adjoining bathhouse with lockers and showers.
“It will bring back the day users and bring the park back to what it was 50 years ago,” Rinn said. “We get a lot of adults who remember those days, and they are going to love these improvements.”