North Texas

Texas Lawmakers Earmark $12.5M for Palo Mountains State Park

It's been nearly eight years of waiting.

In 2011, a site near the small-town of Strawn, best known for chicken-fried steak at Mary's Cafe and six-man football, was selected to become 4,400-acre Palo Pinto Mountains State Park to serve Tarrant County and the western half of the Metroplex.

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports the park, with 1,400-foot ridgelines, creeks and hardwood forests, quickly became known as "the Metroplex's playground" -- but it has been stuck in limbo awaiting funding from legislators.

Now that funding -- $12.5 million -- has been allocated in the appropriations bill hashed out by the House and Senate, but there's a catch. The park, halfway between Fort Worth and Abilene, will still need private donations to open its gates to guests, said Josh Havens, a Texas Parks & Wildlife Department spokesman.

The park's initial funding traces back to Tarrant County.

Proceeds from the sale of land that is now the Tarrant Regional Water District's Eagle Mountain Park helped provide the seed money for Palo Pinto Mountains.

"Part of the agreement on Eagle Mountain was that the state would build a new state park in close driving proximity to Fort Worth, and we are making good on that commitment," said State Sen. Jane Nelson, chairwoman of the Senate Finance Committee.

The park's origins also have a colorful history. A shooting at the Mule Lip Bar in nearby Mingus also ended up providing some of the land for the park.

The park will need about $8 million to $10 million from private donations. The Texas Department of Transportation has $5.3 million set aside for January 2020 to build roads and a camping loop in the park, said Adam Hammons, a state transportation department spokesman.

"We're very grateful the Legislature appropriated that money," said Fort Worth attorney Ralph Duggins, chairman of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission. "We've got a big job through the Parks and Wildlife Foundation to raise that non-state money."

The Texas Parks & Wildlife Foundation, which was founded in 1991 and raises private funds to help support the state park system, will seek donations for Palo Pinto Mountains.

"I think it's safe to say we're confident we can raise it," said Lydia Saldana, a spokesman for the foundation. "This kind of public-private partnership -- this is the way these transformational projects are going to happen in Texas."

Fort Worth resident George Bristol, a former member of the Audubon Texas board of directors and a longtime advocate for state parks. said it has been a successful legislative session for state parks.

A constitutional amendment election will be held in November that would dedicate 93% of the sporting goods sales tax to parks and the other 7% to historic sites. The sporting goods sales tax is not a new tax -- it was always intended for state parks -- but legislators haven't always allocated all of those funds.

Bristol is also confident that private donations will be found for Palo Pinto Mountains.

"We can raise the funds that are needed," Bristol said.

The park is critical to meet the growing demands of DFW's booming population, which topped 7.5 million in the latest Census estimates.

"Part of meeting these growing demands means making available more park land that is easily accessible to Texans living in urban areas." Havens said. "Only 70 miles from the DFW Metroplex, Palo Pinto Mountains State Park promises to become a new favorite playground for millions of Texans looking to get outside to fish, swim, hike, horseback ride and camp."

For the residents of Strawn, the news that funding finally came through is a relief.

City Secretary Danny Miller said the park is essential to reviving the small town's economy.

"We've been in this boat for 50, 60 years," Miller said. `We've maintained. We're not going downhill but we need this to grow."

Jeff Hinkson, a past-president of the Strawn Chamber of Commerce, said both Strawn and Tarrant County had done their share to fund the park.

"The people of North Texas have waited a long time for the Legislature to hold up their end of the bargain and fund Palo Pinto Mountains," Hinkson said. "Locally, we have worked diligently to be involved and collaborate with TPWD. We're excited to see it developed and share this beautiful part of North Texas"

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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