Are our state parks here to stay?

Biking back-country tails is popular at most Texas state parks.
Dogs become Texas  game wardens

One of the best family-based escapes you can find here in Southeast Texas is to visit one of our state parks like Village Creek in Lumberton and Martin Dies Jr. up around Jasper. They both offer an economic escape into adventure that includes camping, hiking, biking, hunting and fishing.

Just recently, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation highlighted data about the important role that parks play to local economies.

“It was estimated that more than 149,834 visitor days were logged at the parks in 2014,” says Jenifer Sarver, with TPWD. “Non-local visitors to the parks spent an estimated $1,908,167 on expenses ranging from food and lodging to recreational equipment, which supports local businesses, and creates jobs and tax revenue. Overall, the total economic output generated by the parks was $3,038,866 in 2014.”

A survey released in January by Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation showed overwhelming voter support of a strong, well-funded system of state and local parks. A tremendous 84 percent of all voters agreed with the statement: “Unless we protect Texas’ natural areas, we will lose the very things that make Texas a special place in which to live.” This level of support for conservation of Texas’ natural areas has been consistently above 80 percent since 1999. The poll demonstrates consistent support in good and bad economic times, and shows that voters would support a constitutional amendment to dedicate sales tax revenue for more and consistent funding for parks.

“State Parks like Village Creek, Sea Rim and Martin Dies Jr. provide a significant public service by protecting and stewarding the state’s major natural and cultural resources,” said Dan Allen Hughes, Chairman of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission. “Statewide, our parks generated more than $774 million in sales in 2013, and produce a tremendous return on investment of more than 2,500 percent for the State of Texas in economic impact. Texas voters understand that a strong and thriving system of state and local parks contributes to a vibrant economy, is an important source of recreation for Texas families and helps protect the natural environment that makes Texas unique.”

It is clear that Texans enjoy and appreciate the parks, providing immeasurable entertainment and recreational value for Texas families. In fact, over the last five years, state park visitation has increased by nearly 10 percent. However, despite strong voter support, increased visitation and a tremendous economic impact, challenges to the park system persist: deteriorating and outdated infrastructure, a lack of consistent and sufficient funding, harsh environmental conditions and a diverse and growing population, among others.

In 1993, the Texas Legislature passed a bill that takes a portion of an existing Sporting Goods Sales Tax and reserves that money to fund state parks. However, since that time the state of Texas has collected more than $2 billion in sporting goods sales tax revenues, yet only 36 percent has been appropriated for parks.

The Texas State Park Advisory Committee has recommended a constitutional amendment permanently guaranteeing that revenues generated from the Sporting Goods Sales Tax be dedicated to supporting state and local parks. According to a public opinion survey, 70 percent of voters would support such a constitutional.

Dogs become Texas game wardens

Ten dogs are now official state K-9s after receiving their badges and commissions as Texas game wardens.

“In a very short period of time, the K-9 program has become a great asset to Texas game wardens, state and local law enforcement agencies, and the citizens we serve throughout Texas,” says Colonel Craig Hunter, Director of TPWD’s Law Enforcement Division.

The dogs underwent an extensive eight-week training led by Sgt. Wendell Nope of the Utah Department of Public Safety’s Peace Officer Standards and Training program. The new K-9s received training in search and rescue, narcotics detection, and a few are also trained in resource recognition, which includes recovery of wildlife and gunpowder residue detection.

“The K-9 program, which began two years ago, has progressed attributes of our job – especially our search and rescue operations,” says game warden Captain Jason Davis, who oversees the K-9 team as part of the Law Enforcement Division’s Tactical Operations. “Now, we can go to the last place a person was and find them faster than we would during a full-area search.”

Davis says the dogs and their partners have become an asset to not only TPWD, but to other agencies as well.

“The K-9 program has evolved into a stand-alone unit due to the large amount of requests they receive,” says Davis. “Handlers and their dogs are dedicated to serving all of Texas, not just specific areas. They are often called to assist other state and local agencies with narcotics searches and search and rescue efforts.”