By JIM FOSTER
Special to the Parade
The Texas Parks and Wildlife (TPW) today hosted 11 news conferences at different locations across the state, appealing to the public to visit state parks and make donations to help offset a revenue loss caused by heat, drought, wildfires and a resulting drop in park visitor revenue.
“The combined factors of record heat and the drought, and the wildfires around the state have caused a decline in visitation and revenue,” said Carter Smith, TPW executive director. “So, we are reaching out for help.”
TPW held news conferences at the following state parks or other locations in cities across Texas: McKinney Falls/Austin, Government Canyon/San Antonio, Sheldon Lake/Houston, Cedar Hill/Dallas-Fort Worth, Abilene SP/Abilene, Amarillo Convention and Visitors Council office/Amarillo, Mustang Island/Corpus Christi, State Parks Office/El Paso, Estero Llano Grande/Rio Grande Valley, Tyler SP/Tyler, and Mother Neff/Waco.
Visitor fees fund about half the $69 million operating budget for the state park system, subject to legislative appropriations. For many years, there’s been a steady upward trend, with more people visiting parks generating more revenue to operate them — until this year.
Through the summer and into early fall, traditionally a busy time for parks, many Texans stayed home because of the dry heat. As a result, in August state park system revenue declined 25 percent compared to the same month last year.
In short, there is a $4.6 million gap in our 2012 park system-operating budget. This is the amount needed to help keep state parks open. TPW is rolling out a multi-faceted awareness campaign stressing three calls to action:
One, visit www.tpwd.state.tx.us/helpparks to make a tax-deductible, year-end donation.
Two, starting Jan. 1, make a donation when you renew your motor vehicle registration.
And three, and most important, because visitor fees pay for about half of park system operating costs, visit state parks.
“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.”
The Texas State Parks operating budget is based on legislative appropriations, but relies on revenue generated by visitor fees. This year, an additional $3 million in revenue was projected.
The department is also providing video, radio, web and social media resources for the media and public, all emphasizing the same three calls to action.
Many state parks offer reduced camping fees during “off-peak” fall and winter months, especially for longer stays. Many parks have lifted burn bans — check online for the latest information. And dozens of state parks are hosting special holiday events in December. See www.tpwd.state.tx.us/calendar/holidays for dates, locations and descriptions.
To learn about the various Texas State Parks and their offerings, or to make online camping reservations, visit www.texasstateparks.org or call state park information at (800) 792-1112, option 3, between 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Editor’s Note: To see more of Jim’s writing and photography, visit fosteroutdoors.blogspot.com. If you have comments or news for Jim Foster, email him at email@example.com.