Take Time To Visit State’s Parks
Over the past several months I have visited 10 state parks in Northeast Texas.
I have been amazed.
The tour started as the Pineywoods was just beginning to awaken from its winter rest. It ended as the heat of summer started to sneak in way too soon as it always tends to do.
But from tiny Mission Tejas on the south to the area's biggest park, Cooper, on the north, historic Caddo to the east and the newcomer, Lake Tawakoni, to the west, the same story played out time after time -- the parks are pristine gems.
It would seem that one of the parks wouldn't live up to expectations. In fact I tried to form a top to bottom list before making the rounds, but it didn't play out in my mind as I had anticipated. There were a couple I really liked better than the others, but there wasn't really a worst. Maybe that is the benefit of visiting in the spring instead of the heat of summer.
Looking back and as a fan of history, I was most impressed by what was done during the worst financial depression in this country's history by "the boys" of the Civilian Conservation Corps. Their Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired designs still perfectly blend into their surroundings 70 years after their development. Even their projects that have been abandoned in favor of modern upgrades, a bath at Mission Tejas, latrines at Tyler State Park, were genius looking back on them.
The second thing is how the parks have gracefully matured. Most were treeless farms when the first roads were cut through them. Either designed for day-use or with limited camping for those with tents or the ones with the cabins constructed, they in no way resemble what visitors find and expect today.
Towering trees beginning at the front gate help those who enter the park escape from the real world that starts maybe a few hundred yards away on the highway.
Although the tent sites and the cabins remain, most of today's campers now stay in travel trailers or motor homes services by 50 and 90 amp power boxes, running water and in some cases sewer hook-ups at the site.
But all that wouldn't mean anything were it not for the staff at each park. The employees at Atlanta State Park, a 1,475-acre facility in Cass County, exemplify the attitude and effort at each of the park. Struggling for attendance and to stay open, Atlanta has just three employees. They share duties at the front gate, as managers, maintenance staff, park patrol, interpretive rangers and hosts. Yet the park is pristine, mowed where it needs mowed, trashed picked up, and restrooms cleaned.
Most importantly, like at every park, the employees seemed to really care that visitors had a good time, but were also safe while there.
But the parks aren't perfect. Their needs are many and it starts with money. There isn't a park manager out there that doesn't have a wish list of improvements. They aren't luxury items, just things that need to be done for their visitors.
They need money for staff. Not bloated numbers, but workable numbers. More and more visitors come to the parks from urban areas. They want to enjoy themselves, but they don't have the knowledge of nature or in some cases how to enjoy themselves in an unstructured way. Many of the parks need interpretive officers to teach them about the birds, the trees and the stars at night; and someone to show them how to put a worm on a hook or how to cook the fish they catch.
The money is there, or it should be. Since voters approved a state sporting goods tax to support Texas parks, the money has been doled out in small increments by legislators who would rather use it to claim a balanced budget.
Instead, parks are forced to beg for donations. It is an embarrassment.
Financial issues aside, Texas has a great state park system. From border to border the diversity offers a great view of the state. The best part is its cheap.
Visit one soon.