Uresti: “Noisy” scouts show need to maintain funding for Texas state parks

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Note: Up to nine state parks would likely have to close if additional funds are not found for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department in the upcoming biennium.  Advocates have begun campaigning to keep the parks open, and they are gaining support. This week, Senator Carlos Uresti discusses the importance of state parks to Texas families and argues that none should be closed.

Senator Carlos Uresti: “Noisy” scouts show need to maintain funding for Texas state parks

I recently received a letter from a man recalling an overnight experience he had at Guadalupe River State Park. When he and his wife pulled into park headquarters to get a camping space, they were warned that some Girl Scouts were in the park and there might be some noise.

Turned out there were 200 girls and their fathers on a father/daughter camping trip.

“For over 48 hours,” the man wrote, “the sound of girls laughing, screaming and giggling echoed throughout the park. The girls' bikes zoomed past our campsite at the rate of 1 per minute. The scout leaders lead the girls in sing-a-longs, nature walks, chants and prayers.”

At first I thought the letter was a complaint – campers are usually seeking solitude – but then I read the next paragraph: “My heart was filled with joy at the sights and sounds I heard from the girls and their fathers becoming bonded together and becoming one with nature at a Texas state park.”

What a testament to our state park system and the pleasure these outdoor facilities bring to Texas families. But the purpose of his letter was to express concern about news reports that Texas may have to close some of its parks.

According to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, the initial funding proposals by the House and Senate are more than $4 million short of the amount needed to keep all 91 state parks up and running. That would put at least nine parks in danger of closing.

With all of the pressing needs confronting state budget writers, parks may not be on the same priority list with public and higher education, water and transportation infrastructure, Medicaid, child protection, and public safety. But with Texas Comptroller Susan Combs predicting a 12.4 percent increase in general revenue funds for the 2014-15 biennium, we may not have to make the stark choice of closing parks.

Another approach is a simple matter of giving parks the money they are due. My Bexar County colleague, Rep. Lyle Larson, is proposing that we end the practice of raiding the sales tax revenues on sporting goods – money that was originally dedicated to Parks and Wildlife but appropriated for other uses.

According to the Houston Chronicle, the proposed 2014-15 parks budget of $140.7 million is about $19 million less than we spent in the 2008-2009 budget cycle, despite soaring costs for maintaining our parks. Even the weather has been a factor, with hurricanes, wildfires, and drought taking their toll.

Senate Finance Chairman Tommy Williams said recently he is “not personally interested in seeing any state parks closed,” and those are encouraging words. As the budget process proceeds, it will become more clear just what the Legislature can do to prevent that from happening.

Senate District 19 contains ten state parks, including Garner State Park in Uvalde County, which many consider one of the crown jewels of the state park system. I share Sen. Williams' goal of keeping all of them open.

And I certainly share the sentiments of the letter-writing camper: “Let me urge Governor Perry and the state Legislature to continue to fund the Texas State Park System in order for families to continue to enjoy and appreciate nature. The state park experience allows treasured family time and valuable learning experiences for all.”

We must keep our parks open for the benefit of all Texans, whether they like the sounds of birds or crickets, gurgling creeks, or Girl Scouts singing with their dads.

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