Palo Pinto Mountains State Park in North Texas set to open in late 2023
Palo Pinto Mountains State Park will be the first new state park in North Texas in more than 20 years. The park has spent years in development and is expected to open to visitors in late 2023, the 100th year of the state parks system.
Palo Pinto Mountains State Park is scheduled to open to visitors in late 2023, in time for the centennial of the state parks system, Texas Parks and Wildlife officials said Tuesday.
The new park is in Palo Pinto County, four miles outside the small city of Strawn and about halfway between Fort Worth and Abilene. When it opens, Palo Pinto will be the first new state park in North Texas in 25 years.
Officials welcomed journalists to the under-construction Palo Pinto Mountains State Park on Tuesday morning, showing off mock-ups of what the park buildings will look like while parks employees brewed coffee on a campfire.
Texas state parks saw “record visitation” due to the pandemic, when spending time in the open air was the only safe way to have fun, said Director of State Parks Rodney Franklin.
"More Texans than ever, almost 10 million people, came to Texas state parks,” he said. “We're expecting that number to continue to grow, because it was growing prior to that."
New funding from the state could also help open more parks. In 2019, voters approved a constitutional amendment that sends sporting goods sales tax revenue to parks, according to the Fort Worth Report.
That money has made it possible to plan for and build state parks on other undeveloped properties the state already owns, Franklin said. He hopes to open six parks in the next 12 to 14 years.
"So that is another way, not just Palo Pinto, but the rest of these properties will help be a relief valve for the millions of Texas that have discovered state parks,” Franklin said.
Roads and buildings are still under construction at Palo Pinto. The park covers nearly 5,000 acres, and when it opens, it will offer trails for hikers, bikers and horseback riders. Kayakers can paddle across Tucker Lake and campers can stay overnight to stargaze. The park used to be ranch land, which came into the parks department’s hands after an infamous bar shooting.
The park has been funded in part with public money, and in part with private donations. Anne Brown is the executive director of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation, a nonprofit that raises money for the state Parks and Wildlife Department. The initial private fundraising goal for Palo Pinto was $9 million, but inflation has driven up construction costs.
“We’re trying to look at where we can tweak costs, and then go back to some of our most loyal funders and see if they'll help increase their gift," Brown said.
Texas ranks 35th in the nation for state park acreage per capita, according to an Environment Texas report released this year. The report calls Palo Pinto a step in the right direction, but the state still needs more parkland to conserve ecosystems and boost the economy.
“People don't realize that the outdoor industry is our third-biggest business sector. It's a $31 billion industry in Texas. Hundreds of thousands of jobs, billions in wages,” said Environment Texas’ Michael Lewis. “For some of these areas that are more rural, having a large state park can be a big economic boon.”
There’s no set date for the opening of the park, but officials expect it to welcome its first visitors in late 2023.
This story has been updated to remove an incorrect figure on the amount of money Palo Pinto Mountains State Park needs to raise in private donations.
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