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Natural Economic Assets

Garner State Park in Uvalde County, Texas Texas State Park Regions - There are seven parks regions designated by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. They are, from west to east, the Big Bend, Panhandle Plains, Hill Country, South Texas Plains, Coastal, Prairies and Lakes, and Pineywoods regions. Source: Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.


Many Texans have idyllic memories of time spent with family and friends in natural settings. As the number of urban Texans increases and cities expand ever outward, our state parks — and the experiences they offer — have become increasingly important.

While Texans enjoy the green colors of nature, others are enjoying green of another sort – the cash earned by local businesses catering to park visitors and the economic growth it generates.

State Parks

Texas has 93 state parks, historical sites and natural areas that contain a total of 586,501 acres in 98 counties (Exhibit 1 and Exhibit 2).1 Texas has a total land area of 167.5 million acres; state parks occupy one-third of 1 percent of that total.2 State parks hosted 2.3 million overnight visitors and 6.7 million day visitors in 2007.3


Texas Parks System Map

Texas Parks System Map

Source: Texas Parks and Wildlife Department

(Texas Parks System Map, in Text Format.)


Total Visitors to Texas Parks, 2007

Site Name Total Visits Fiscal Year 2007 Percent of Overnight Visitors Acreage County Site Type
Cedar Hill 531,153 14.7 1,811 Dallas State Park
San Jacinto Monument, Battleground and Battleship Texas 415,817 1,216 Harris State Historic Site
Goose Island 371,519 16.2 321 Aransas State Park
Mustang Island 342,256 13.5 4,094 Nueces State Park
Garner 303,874 73.4 2,029 Uvalde State Park
Palo Duro Canyon 301,931 15.8 26,275 Armstrong/ Randall State Park
Brazos Bend 258,378 19.5 4,975 Fort Bend State Park
Galveston Island 243,560 43.4 2,007 Galveston State Park
Ray Roberts Lake 235,384 37.8 5,538 Cooke/ Denton/ Grayson State Park
Lake Casa Blanca 234,873 18 371 Webb State Park
Bastrop 225,348 21.5 6,177 Bastrop State Park
Dinosaur Valley 217,852 12.9 1,587 Somervell State Park
Eisenhower 213,087 21.9 423 Grayson State Park
Huntsville 203,087 29.2 2,083 Walker State Park
Enchanted Rock 195,891 19.5 1,644 Gillespie State Natural Area
Pedernales Falls 185,596 23.2 5,212 Blanco State Park
Lake Livingston 183,569 36 636 Polk State Park
Lake Somerville 181,832 25.2 5,520 Burleson/ Lee State Park
Lyndon B. Johnson 161,077 0.5 718 Gillespie State Park and Historic Site
Inks Lake 142,824 73.2 1,201 Burnet State Park
Lake Mineral Wells and Trailway 132,245 40.7 3,282 Parker/ Palo Pinto State Park
McKinney Falls 124,539 34.7 725 Travis State Park
Guadalupe River –Honey Creek 117,906 40.8 4,232 Comal/ Kendall State Park
Choke Canyon 108,471 8.6 3,786 Live Oak/ McMullen State Park
Blanco 107,540 25.2 105 Blanco State Park
Caprock Canyons and Trailways 105,888 10.4 15,280 Briscoe/ Floyd/ Hall State Park
Purtis Creek 104,855 24.7 1,582 Henderson/ Van Zandt State Park
Tyler 104,644 52.6 985 Smith State Park
Washington-on-the-Brazos 103,973 293 Washington State Historic Site
Cooper Lake 101,487 21.4 3,026 Delta/ Hopkins State Park
Lake Arrowhead 98,998 15 524 Clay State Park
Davis Mountains 98,101 59.8 2,709 Jeff Davis State Park
Cleburne 97,934 27 529 Johnson State Park
Fort Parker 93,123 22.9 1,448 Limestone State Park
Lake Corpus Christi 90,459 42.8 14,156 San Patricio State Park
Palmetto 89,759 15.3 277 Gonzales State Park
Lost Maples 87,804 22.6 2,174 Bandera/ Real State Natural Area
Lake Whitney 84,694 37.9 1,315 Hill State Park
Falcon 83,379 23.9 573 Starr State Park
Lake Tawakoni 80,247 26.8 376 Hunt State Park
Stephen F. Austin 76,966 43.4 487 Austin State Park
Caddo Lake 75,583 30.3 484 Harrison State Park
Lake Brownwood 74,195 55.1 538 Brown State Park
Martin Creek Lake 71,911 38.2 287 Rusk State Park
Sheldon Lake 69,096 2,605 Harris State Park
Colorado Bend 67,227 21 5,328 Lampasas/ San Saba State Park
Lake Bob Sandlin 66,427 34.8 640 Titus State Park
Lake Texana 63,186 63.7 575 Jackson State Park
Possum Kingdom 58,103 52.3 1,529 Palo Pinto State Park
Daingerfield 55,734 39.4 507 Morris State Park
Monahans Sandhills 55,321 12.6 3,840 Ward/ Winkler State Park
South Llano River 55,212 52.5 524 Kimble State Park
Lockhart 54,719 19.7 264 Caldwell State Park
Seminole Canyon 54,017 17.3 2,173 Val Verde State Park and Historic Site
Abilene 53,750 42.4 529 Taylor State Park
Fairfield Lake 53,650 55.5 1,460 Freestone State Park
World Birding Center –
Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley
52,337 0.7 764 Hidalgo State Park
Balmorhea 51,993 47.2 46 Reeves State Park
Bonham 50,666 15 261 Fannin State Park
Franklin Mountains 49,358 1.5 24,150 El Paso State Park
Fort Richardson 48,880 35.2 477 Jack State Park and Historic Site
Goliad 48,747 25.3 188 Goliad State Park and Historic Site
Port Isabel Lighthouse* 48,000 1 Cameron State Historic Site
Meridian 44,126 26.9 505 Bosque State Park
Government Canyon 43,999 8,620 Bexar State Natural Area
Lake Colorado City 42,960 35.4 500 Mitchell State Park
Longhorn Caverns** 41,353 653 Burnet State Park
Atlanta 39,940 26.3 1,475 Cass State Park
Buescher 37,123 51.4 1,017 Bastrop State Park
Big Spring 35,663 1.6 382 Howard State Park
Village Creek 33,475 18.5 1,090 Hardin State Park
Hill Country 33,160 20.9 5,370 Bandera/ Medina State Natural Area
San Angelo 30,702 50.1 7,063 Tom Green State Park
Martin Dies, Jr. 30,542 38.7 705 Jasper/ Tyler State Park
Hueco Tanks 23,286 17.4 860 El Paso State Park and Historic Site
Mother Neff 19,313 18.5 259 Coryell State Park
Big Bend Ranch 19,131 28.5 301,319 Brewster/ Presidio State Park
Copper Breaks 16,446 18.5 1,899 Hardeman State Park
Mission Tejas 14,898 28.3 660 Houston State Park
Fort Boggy 12,648 1,847 Leon State Park
Monument Hill –Kreische Brewery 8,949 40 Fayette State Historic Site
World Birding Center –Estero Llano Grande 7,315 153 Hidalgo State Park
Fort Leaton 2,893 23 Presidio State Historic Site
Sebastopol House 2,312 2 Guadalupe State Historic Site
Devil’s Sinkhole 1,880 1,860 Edwards State Natural Area
Fanthorp Inn 1,829 1 Grimes State Historic Site
Devil’s River 821 19,989 Val Verde State Natural Area
Kickapoo Cavern 713 6,368 Edwards/ Kinney State Park
Chinati Mountains (Not open currently) 37,885 Presidio State Natural Area
Davis Hill (Not open currently) 1,737 Liberty State Park
Lipantitlan (Not staffed –visitation not tracked) 5 Nueces State Historic Site
Sea Rim (Closed due to Hurricane Rita damage) 4,141 Jefferson State Park
World Birding Center –
Resaca de la Palma
(Not open currently) 1,200 Cameron State Park
Total 9,065,509  25.7 586,501    

* Park is operated by the city of Port Isabel; estimated visitor count represents October 2006 – September 2007.
** Park is privately operated; visitor count represents calendar year 2007.

Source: Texas Parks and Wildlife Department


Residences of Out-of-State Visitors to Texas State Parks, Fiscal 2007

StateOut-of-State Visitors
Louisiana 5,984
Oklahoma 4,792
New Mexico 4,740
Florida 4,158
California 3,909
Colorado 3,887
Michigan 2,732
Missouri 2,604
Minnesota 2,528
Arizona 2,467
Arkansas 2,360
Illinois 2,241
Wisconsin 1,769
Kansas 1,697
Washington 1,576
Other States 22,646
Other Countries 2,267
Unknown 141
TOTAL 72,498

Source: Texas Parks and Wildlife Department

Of the 2.3 million overnight visitors, almost 72,500 or 3.1 percent were from outside of Texas. Exhibit 3 highlights the top 15 residences of out-of-state U.S. visitors, foreign visitors and those who are unknown to Texas state parks in fiscal 2007.

State parks hosted 2.3 million overnight visitors and 6.7 million day visitors
in 2007.

Of the foreign visitors to Texas parks in 2007, 45.8 percent came from Canada, 30.4 percent from Germany, 11.8 percent from the United Kingdom and 5.5 percent from Mexico.4

State parks provide inexpensive and easily accessible recreational opportunities that are increasingly valuable in an era of record-high gasoline prices. While fees vary, most park entrance fees are only a few dollars per person. Primitive campsites (those with no water or electricity) rent for about $12 per night. Campsites with water rent for about $15 per night, while high-end, large cabins for eight or more people cost $200 or more per night.5

The travel organization AAA found recently that more than half of its members in Texas are cutting back on driving and eating out; 9 percent were canceling planned vacations. Members with annual household incomes of less than $50,000 were most likely to take such actions to reduce gasoline consumption.6 The number of Texas park visitors will likely increase as more Texans decide to vacation closer to home.

Parks Funding

Texas funds its parks system through a dedicated portion of the 6.25 percent state sales tax attributable to sales of sporting goods equipment. Until recently, the portion the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) received for the park system was capped in state law at $32 million biennially, with the remainder going to the General Revenue Fund.

The 2007 Legislature, however, repealed that cap with House Bill 12, which allows TPWD to receive appropriations each biennium in an amount to be determined by the Legislature. The same legislation transferred 18 historical sites from TPWD to the Texas Historical Commission as of January 1, 2008. The Legislature then increased funding for state park operations in the 2008-09 biennium by $96.4 million, a 79.7 percent increase over the previous biennium. This funding increase includes:

The number of Texas park visitors will likely increase as more Texans decide to vacation closer to home.

  • $43.7 million for park operating costs and 229.3 new full-time equivalent employees (FTEs);
  • $9.4 million for new vehicles, equipment and technology for the park system;
  • $7.0 million for state park minor repairs (projects with an average cost of $25,000 or less); and
  • $36.3 million for additional local park grants.7
Lost Maples State Park in Bandera and Real Counties, Texas

This increase in funding followed multiple news reports and public testimony concerning equipment failures, staff shortages, overcrowding and other problems at state parks across Texas.

In 2007, Texas voters approved a constitutional amendment, Proposition Four, approving the sale of state general obligation bonds in coming years to fund major infrastructure projects throughout the state. The Legislature authorized TPWD to receive a small portion – $52.1 million – of this bond revenue. Almost half of this amount, or $25 million, is dedicated to repairs for the battleship Texas, harbored at the San Jacinto State Historical Site near Houston. The remainder is dedicated to park repairs.8

TPWD provides local governments with grants, depending upon legislative appropriations, for the acquisition and development of local parklands. Since fiscal 2000, these grants have ranged from $2.7 million to $15.3 million annually. Additional funding increased the estimated fiscal 2008 funding to $32.2 million.

In fiscal 2007, park fee revenues were $34.6 million, according to TPWD’s fiscal 2010-2011 Request for Legislative Appropriations.9

In addition to increasing TPWD’s funding, the Legislature included a Rider 30 in the department’s 2008-09 budget that directed the agency to commission a business plan analyzing the necessity and impact of proposed repairs and new construction. Rider 30 required TPWD to determine whether repairs would generate increased park attendance and the additional revenues needed to cover their costs.

In March 2008, TPWD released this business plan, which was prepared for the department by the team of Fisher-Heck Architects and Pros Consulting LLC. The results of the report were clear: The return on capital investment in state parks is expected to reap gains well in excess of costs.

The state enjoys a significant return when it invests in its parks.

The report found that 77 percent of the proposed capital projects would either lead to an increase in attendance at state parks or would prevent a decline in attendance. Similarly, 82 percent of the projects would increase revenues or prevent erosion in existing revenues. These findings indicate that Texas’ upkeep of its parks is an important priority and that the state enjoys a significant return when it invests in its parks.

Galveston Island State Park in Galveston County, Texas

The business plan recommended that all of TPWD’s recommended capital projects be authorized to address immediately deteriorated facilities and infrastructure at parks throughout the state. Failure to perform the recommended actions would lead to “deterioration of state assets, negative impacts on park usage, decreased financial performance of state parks, and increased costs to the State of Texas for the eventual need to perform these repairs.”10

According to Kevin Good, special assistant to the director of the State Parks Division at TPWD, the investment in additional staff and repairs will improve the experience of visitors to each state park. Increased funds will allow the agency to address facilities that have needed repair for many years. In many cases, these deteriorating facilities had been the source of visitor complaints. For example, several park superintendents interviewed for this report emphasized that park visitors would comment upon the run-down state of restroom facilities at many state parks. Superintendent Todd McClanahan at Bastrop State Park suggested that a clean, functional restroom was one of the primary factors determining whether a park visitor had a positive or negative experience at his state park. Recognizing this fact, TPWD prioritized 18 separate repair projects for restrooms at state parks in fiscal 2008 and 2009.

State parks are important public assets that provide benefits for Texas citizens.

Free Fishing in Texas State Parks - No License Required

Repair projects such as these likely will have a positive impact on visitors’ experiences and may contribute to increased visitation. Because many of these repair projects have only recently been completed or are currently pending, the impact of the increased funding for state parks in the current budget has not yet been assessed. Further complicating the picture, increased funding is only one of many factors that will influence state park attendance. Other factors include gas prices, economic trends, weather and publicity, some of which resulted from increased public attention to the condition of the state parks system before the 2007 legislative session.

Clearly, state parks are important public assets that provide benefits for Texas citizens, just as do schools, universities and highways. Without maintenance and investment, these assets are diminished. Investment in state parks ensures that these resources remain available for enjoyment by future generations of Texans.

Pedernales State Park in Blanco County, Texas


  • 1 The actual number of parks may be counted several ways. A few parks have separate parcels of land, which Texas Parks and Wildlife Department staff refers to as units. Thus, one park may constitute two or more units. There are 123 units in all. Of the 93 parks, the department leases 17 from the U.S. Corps of Engineers, cities, counties or other entities. It also leases out two parks – one to a private entity and one to a city.
  • 2 Elizabeth Cruce Alvarez, ed., Texas Almanac 2006-2007, Sesquicentennial Edition (Dallas: Dallas Morning News: 2006), p. 69. The Almanac reference is to the state’s total land area in square miles; Comptroller calculations converted that to acres. The percentage of parkland is based on these data and those supplied by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, June 2, 2008.
  • 3 Data provided by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, “State Park Sites, Acreage, Visits,” with Texas Comptroller’s office calculations. Visitor counts for Longhorn Caverns, which is privately operated, and the Lighthouse at Port Isabel, which is operated by the city of Port Isabel, were obtained from staff at each facility on June 30, 2008.
  • 4 Data provided by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, “FY07 Out of State Visitation Stats,” with Texas Comptroller’s office calculations.
  • 5 Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, “Lodging & Other Indoor Overnight Facilities” (Last visited August 19, 2008.)
  • 6 AAA Texas, “AAA Texas Member Survey Reveals Habit Changes As Result of Record Gas Prices,” Irving, Texas, May 29, 2008. (Press release.)
  • 7 Texas Legislative Budget Board, Fiscal Size-Up 2008-09 Biennium (Austin, Texas, March 2008), p. 358, (Last visited August 28, 2008.)
  • 8 Texas S.J.R. 65 and Texas S.B. 2033, 80th Leg., Reg. Sess. (2007). For more detailed information, see Texas House Research Organization, Constitutional Amendments Proposed for November 2007 Ballot, Prop. 4: General obligation bonds for state agency construction and repair projects (Austin, Texas, August 24, 2007), p. 14, (Last visited July 23, 2008.)
  • 9 Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Request for Legislative Appropriations, Fiscal Years 2010 and 2011, (Austin, Texas, August 20, 2008,) “Estimated Revenue Collections Supporting Schedule, 6.E.,” page 4 of 17. See subaccount 3461, “State Parks Fees,” for the actual collections in fiscal year 2007.
  • 10 Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Business Plan Update, Assessment of Capital Projects – Rider 30 (A), by Pros Consulting, LLC (Austin, Texas, March 2008), pp. 2, (Last visited July 24, 2008.) (Consultant’s report.)
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