By Betsy Dolan
Coming off one of the most tumultuous weather episodes in Texas history and struggling with what will likely be another lean financial year, Brazos Bend State Park is making use of the adage “where there’s a will there’s a way” by setting attendance records, expanding their facilities and planning a new Environmental Education Center.
“It’s primary purpose will be to encourage environmental stewardship”, said Steve Killian, Brazos Bend State Park Superintendant. “We want to educate our visitors about what a superior outdoor recreation area they have right in their own backyard.
The multi-million dollar complex, which will be in the vicinity of the current Nature Center, is still in the beginning stages and will consist of a large exhibit hall with seating for 200 people, an education center with classrooms and live animal exhibits and an outdoor garden area. The park’s Volunteer Organization is working with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to design the facility which could cost between $6 and $7 million dollars and will be paid for largely through private and corporate donations.
Lean times ahead
Brazos Bend State Park and the other 93 state parks in the Texas system, are reeling from significant budget cuts over the last few years. Early in 2011, the Texas State Legislature cut an additional 21% from Texas Parks and Wildlife through the 2012-13 fiscal year, 8% of that from the state parks system. Back in December, Scott Boruff, Deputy Executive Director of Texas Parks and Wildlife said that no state parks were slated to be closed but if the budget deficit isn’t reduced “all options are on the table.”
In an effort to generate additional funds, TPW debuted a new program on January 1, which allows Texans to make voluntary donations to the state park system when they register a new motor vehicle or renew a vehicle registration. TPW has also started an online fundraising campaign soliciting tax deductible donations dedicated exclusively to state park funding. The programs, while just three months old, have not yet taken off, but Killian hopes it is just a matter of time before it resonates with the public.
“Texas is growing we’re doing our best to keep up”, Killian said. “Everyone always thinks of state parks as nothing more than fun and games but they miss the reality that these places are big money makers for the state of Texas.”.
Killian cites a 2005 study, conducted by Texas A & M, showing that Texas state parks generate over a billion dollars in revenue for Texas.
Drought not all bad
Signs of last year’s drought, the worst in Texas’ history, are not readily apparent in Brazos Bend State Park this spring. A few dead trees are scattered throughout the park, now being used as habitat for birds and other animals. Killian estimates that the lakes lost half of their water volume last summer but the low water levels allowed park volunteers to get big equipment into the lakes to repair docks and viewing platforms. The drought impacted some animal populations especially smaller alligators who were unable to hide in parched marsh areas.
“We need cycles of drought and wet”, Killian said. “It’s the best environment for our plants and animals to adapt and survive. Balance is good. What we don’t need are prolonged dry or wet periods.”
Park volunteers have built three new trails, expanding the Creekwood Lake trail to include a long loop and a short loop as well as constructing the one-mile Prairie Loop trail. Brazos Bend State Park has also expanded their educational programming on weekends and on holidays.
“We want visitors to see natural Texas. To see what it used to be like,” Killian said. “And our wildflowers are at their peak right now.”