Texas Parks Suffer Visitor Drought

Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), January 29, 2012 | Go to article overview

Texas Parks Suffer Visitor Drought


Byline: Associated Press

AUSTIN, Texas -- Wildfires caused as much as $11 million in damage to Texas state parks and, coupled with the worst single-year drought in state history, continue to drive down the parks' visitation rates, a top official told state lawmakers.

Carter Smith, executive director of Texas Parks and Wildlife, reported to members of the Texas House Culture, Recreation and Tourism committee that the parks have seen an 8.4 percent decline in revenue from visitors in the first quarter of the 2012 fiscal year, which began Sept. 1. He said that represents $928,000 in losses, which are especially costly because 55 percent of total park funding comes from visitor-generated revenue.

State park officials had announced last month that fewer visitors already had resulted in a $4.6 million funding deficit for fiscal year 2011.

Smith said the number of visitors in August alone fell by a quarter. He said some of Texas' most popular parks with water attractions saw declines of nearly 55 percent in visitation revenue rates.

"These oppressive summer temperatures, no water in rivers and lakes, burn bans ... all of those things conspire to keep people inside as opposed to going outside," Smith said.

Texas' 94 state parks and historic sites, which average 8 million visitors annually, endured between $10 million and $11 million in damages from last year's fires, Smith told the committee. Overall across Texas, nearly 4 million acres and 4,000 homes were destroyed, making it the state's most destructive fire season ever.

Davis Mountains, Possum Kingdom and Bastrop state parks were all severely damaged.

Texas also sweated through what by most measures was the hottest summer on record in U.S. history in 2011, while suffering from the punishing drought. Though some winter rains have helped ease severe drought conditions, La Ni[+ or -]a weather patterns likely mean dry months ahead. …

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