How bad is this situation? State Parks Director Walt Dabney said in Houston today that the historic Battleship Texas is leaking so badly it will sink and fall apart in a few years, unless money is found to raise it out of the water into a drydock and repair it. Many state parks were built in the 1930s, and they're still using their original restrooms and other facilities. Dabney says it's because there's no money to upgrade or repair anything.
"The legislature has got lots of challenges. I understand that. The legislature responds to things that people say are important to them, and while I certainly can't lobby, the people of Texas can and they've gotta tell whoever makes decisions about money what is important to them, and if having a state park system that's viable is one of those, then they will know that."
Every year Texas parks attract more than ten million people -- who pump more than a billion dollars a year into the communities around the parks. In fact, parks are the single biggest tourist draw in the state, but they're in such poor condition that many out-of-state people who used to spend the winter in the Rio Grande Valley are taking themselves and their money somewhere else.
"Those people come down there and they stay for two, three or four months, and if they go somewhere else for two, three or four months, then that economic value goes away."
Dabney says it's not hard to figure out where they're going. They're going to other southern states that spend more money on their state parks.
"We're 49th in our funding of parks, and our system, the way it is going down hill, is hurting us overall economically. It's a tiny amount of money that would be needed compared to what it can generate for this state in tourism dollars."
While the struggle for funding goes on, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission has appointed an Advisory Board to look for new ways to deal with the issues facing the park system. The board will look at public-private partnerships in parks, including concessions and sponsorships, help the agency accomplish the goals spelled out in its 10-year operating plan.
Walt Dabney says a well maintained park system will bring in at least ten dollars for every dollar spent maintaining it, and in a state that depends heavily on tourists, it makes no sense to not take care of what's attracting them. Jim Bell, Houston Public Radio News.