A celebration as big as the Lone Star State will be announced Tuesday as Texas gets ready to embrace 100 years of the state park system.
Governor Pat Neff called for a State Parks Board back in 1923 to create camping and recreational spaces for families to enjoy.
"His vision was to have state parks peppered across the landscape of Texas to give people places to go and enjoy nature. He realized that vision. And, today that vision is here. We exist to give people a place to enjoy open spaces in Texas," said Rodney Franklin, the State Parks Director at Texas Parks and Wildlife.
Mother Neff State Park in Moody, Texas, is considered the first state park.
A century later, there are 89 state parks.
And in 2023, more than 80 of them will celebrate the centennial in some way or another with most activities free for families. The hope is that Texans get out in nature and enjoy the state treasure.
"There's a lot to be proud of in Texas and that includes the diversity of the landscape that exists. We have coastal parks, parks in east Texas with big trees. We've got the 2nd largest canyon in the continental U.S.A. at Palo Duro Canyon State Park. So the diversity of the landscape matches the diversity of the people who are here in Texas. And that is something to be proud of," Franklin said.
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Tuesday's announcement about the centennial celebration will happen in Strawn west of Fort Worth at the site of the future Palo Pinto Mountains State Park.
The soft opening of the park in late 2023 will mark the first new state park in North Texas in 25 years.
"It's gonna have camping. Go with your family to take a walk in nature. You can have family reunions there. It's gonna be centered around a 90-acre lake where you can kayak or learn how to kayak and canoe or you can paddle board," Franklin explained. "It's gonna have pristine views, 1400 foot elevation with 360-degree views around the Cross Timbers area of Texas. So, we're excited. It's gonna have over 20 miles of trails for people to enjoy."
The centennial celebration will officially kick off statewide on Jan. 1, 2023, with First Day Hikes. New Years’ Day hikers will be welcomed across the state, and many parks will offer ranger-guided walks and hikes for the special event.
"And the other thing we're really wanting to do with this centennial, and I can't emphasize this enough, is those folks who are not aware of state parks, that haven't been to a state park, we want those folks to discover state parks and become stewards moving forward," Franklin said. "We'd like to take people who potentially can't even name a state park today but by the end of 2023, we want them to have a favorite Texas state park."
Franklin points to the proven benefits of time outdoors from a lower heart rate to stress to blood pressure.
The Texas native developed his love of the outdoors as a kid. He remembers fishing trips with his dad to Bob Sandlin State Park in Pittsburg in northeast Texas. Franklin joined the Boy Scouts and spent many nights camping out in state parks. He later became a seasonal employee at the Sam Bell Maxey State Historic site in Paris. Franklin joined the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department 31 years ago and was appointed to run the State Parks division in 2108.
While Franklin knows about parks and camping like the back of his hand, TPWD realizes not everyone has that experience. So, training and guidance through outdoor family workshops are available for a $75 fee. "That's the good thing about Texas state parks. You don't have to discover this alone. We have a few events through the year where we'll go with you and teach you how to make s'mores, teach you how to set up a tent. So, we'll be right there with you to help you so you can be comfortable with it," he smiled.