Texas Blogger Mourns Parks That Never Were
Editor’s Note: The following opinion appeared in Off the Kuff, Texas’ longest running progressive political blog. It is written by Charles Kuffner. Born and raised in New York, Kuffner got to Texas as fast as he could by enrolling at Trinity University in 1984. After graduating with a degree in math, he went to Houston where he was briefly a graduate student at Rice. Since then, he was worked in the IT industry, where he is currently a BlackBerry administrator. He has been a resident of the Heights for 10 years, where he lives with his wife and two daughters.
For 30 years, the state parks department has owned 1,700 acres of diverse wilderness about 45 minutes east of downtown Houston. It stretches from the highest hill on the Texas coastal plain down to a pristine, white sandy beach on the Trinity River.
Yet the public never has had access to this indigenous gem – Davis Hill State Park, named after Gen. James Davis, a Texas Revolutionary hero who once had a plantation home atop the 261-foot hill.
This park has sat idle without the state making a single plan for developing it since the land was acquired in 1983.
But it is not alone. It is the oldest of four state parks, covering nearly 48,000 acres, for which no money has been set aside for development. All remain closed to the public.
Records show Texas lawmakers have not put any money into Texas Parks and Wildlife’s budget for developing new parks for a decade. The park budget now under consideration for 2013-14 requests nothing for development of forgotten properties such as Davis Hill.
“It feels remiss for us to be letting potential parkland sit dormant because there’s no funding,” said State Rep. Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio. “But park administrators have been beaten back from the trough for so long that this year they didn’t even ask.”
Evelyn Merz, the Sierra Club’s statewide conservation chairwoman, said, “It’s a shame that we have all this parkland that nobody is able to appreciate.”
State officials estimate it would cost $200,000 to develop a master plan for Davis Hill, plus another $12 million to complete the infrastructure.
Merz said park administrators have not focused on park development but rather on obtaining enough money to keep the doors open to already operating parks. Preliminary budget proposals explored by lawmakers could force possible closure of as many as nine of them.
Just as a reminder, the TPWD’s budget is a teeny tiny fraction of the state’s revenue. The $200,000 to develop a master plan for Davis Hill doesn’t even amount to rounding error. The issue goes back a lot farther than the time period in which Republicans have been in control of the Lege, though of course back in 1983 people like Rick Perry were still Democrats. This is what starving the beast looks like.