For nearly a decade, the Texas parks department has hoped to turn a 4,400-acre swath of pristine forest in North Texas into what some hope could be the "metroplex's playground."
About 80 miles west of downtown Fort Worth, the already-named Palo Pinto Mountains State Park — with a scenic ridge overlooking a lake and more-than-ample space for camping — promises to be a huge recreational draw.
But the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has struggled to secure funding from the state Legislature to install the infrastructure that would make the park fit for public use.
As park visitation skyrockets statewide, Palo Pinto is just one victim of what parks advocates say is a chronically underfunded state parks department that has struggled not only to develop new natural areas but also to maintain existing ones.
That trend could change soon, however.
State Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, and Rep John P. Cyrier, R-Lockhart, have filed legislation that would ensure that the state parks department always gets the maximum amount of money it is authorized to receive from a tax on the sale of sporting goods to maintain parks and build new ones — but only if voters approve it.
In 1993, state lawmakers passed legislation allowing up to 94 percent of the Sporting Goods Sales Tax to go to parks, with the other 6 percent earmarked for the Texas Historical Commission, which maintains the state's 22 historic sites. But over the next two decades, they allocated just 40 percent of the tax to the parks system.
Kolkhorst and Cyrier's legislation aims to amend the Texas Constitution to ensure that the state parks department and historical commission always receive the entirety of sporting goods tax collections. If passed by the Legislature — joint resolutions require approval from two-thirds of both the House and Senate — the proposed amendment would be placed on the November general election ballot.
"We want to ensure that every Texan can take advantage of our state’s great outdoors, and the state has a responsibility to provide for our state parks and historic sites," Kolkhorst said at a news conference on Wednesday. "This is truth in taxation, and it gives these agencies the ability to plan."