Increased State Park Funding Brings Positive Changes
AUSTIN, Texas — State park visitors will notice better maintained park facilities, more interpretive programming, reopened campgrounds and trails, and better customer service thanks to lawmakers and voters who gave a strong thumbs-up to more funding for parks. Already, many of the more than 200 new state park employee positions have been filled, repairs of long-neglected facilities have begun or will soon begin, and days and hours of park operations are being extended. The 80th Texas Legislature passed House Bills 1 and 12 that provide $25.6 million for park operations and the hiring of park staff during the 2008–09 biennium. Lawmakers also appropriated roughly $52 million in bonding authority to fund major state park repairs, sending the measure to voters for approval as required by law. On Nov. 6, voters approved that constitutional measure, Proposition 4, which allocates $25 million to dry-berth the Battleship Texas to ensure its long-term preservation and another $27 million for major infrastructure repairs throughout the eight state park regions.
Game Wardens Fall in the Line of Duty
FREEPORT, Texas — The site formerly known as Peach Point Wildlife Management area was formally rededicated as the “Justin Hurst WMA” in recognition of the game warden and former wildlife biologist who was killed in the line of duty earlier this year. As a Texas Parks and Wildlife Department biologist, Hurst devoted six years to the 15,612-acre WMA known for its lush wetlands and coastal plains harboring waterfowl and other wildlife. As Peach Point’s area manager he was instrumental in the development of many waterfowl conservation projects on the site, including mottled duck research. Hurst started his career with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department as a biologist in August 1995 specializing in waterfowl management along the mid-coast. Hurst became a part of the 48th Texas Game Warden Academy and graduated in August of 2002. While at the academy, Hurst shared his knowledge about waterfowl with fellow cadets and taught duck identification techniques. On March 17, Hurst’s 34th birthday, he was killed while attempting to apprehend a suspected poacher. The Justin Hurst WMA becomes the fourth wildlife area in Texas dedicated to a fallen game warden.
GLEN ROSE, Texas — Texas Game Warden Teyran “Ty” Patterson, 28, died in the line of duty May 30 during a search-and-rescue operation on the Paluxy River. Patterson drowned after his boat capsized in floodwaters. Patterson and his partner, Game Warden Danny Tuggle, were attempting to recover the body of a suspected drowning victim where the Paluxy River crosses FM 205 in Somervell County. Patterson earned his Bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Texas State University, and was a graduate of the 51st Texas Game Warden Academy in 2005. On June 4, some 2,000 people, including hundreds of game wardens and other peace officers, friends and family members, filled the Seguin-Guadalupe County Coliseum to standing room-only capacity for Patterson’s funeral. He was the second Texas game warden killed in the line of duty in less than three months. Since 1919, 17 Texas game wardens have lost their lives in the line of duty, five by drowning.
Carter Smith Named TPWD Executive Director
SAN ANTONIO, Texas — Carter Smith was named executive director of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department on Dec. 5 at a special meeting of the TPW Commission in San Antonio. Smith will be leaving the helm at The Nature Conservancy of Texas to take the top job at TPWD. Smith has been with The Nature Conservancy of Texas since 1998 and has been the state director since 2004. Smith is a native of Central Texas and began his career in 1992 at the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department as a management intern, assisting in the Private Lands and Public Hunting programs. He has a wildlife management degree from Texas Tech and a master’s degree in conservation biology from Yale University. Smith will replace Robert L. Cook, who retired Aug. 31.
Texas Clipper Sunk as Artificial Reef
AUSTIN, Texas — A ship with three lives — World War II troop transport, New York City luxury liner, and sea cadet training vessel — made her final journey this fall. On Nov. 17, the Texas Clipper was sunk in the Gulf of Mexico off South Padre Island to become an artificial reef. The 473-foot vessel was launched in 1944 as the USS Queens, a WWII transport and attack ship. After the war, she was recommissioned as the SS Excambion, carrying passengers in grand style between New York City and Mediterranean ports until 1958. From 1965–1994, she was the USTS Texas Clipper, a Texas A&M University—Galveston maritime training vessel. The ship ended up resting on its port side instead of upright, where it would have been more accessible to divers of various experience levels. Regardless, the complex, durable structure is still expected to form the foundation of a vibrant marine invertebrate community, sustaining recreationally important “bottom” fish like snappers and groupers and pelagic species like cobia and king mackerel. As an artificial reef, the ship is also expected to generate millions of dollars in diving and angling tourism for local economies over a lifespan of at least 50 years.
New Texas Regulations To Protect Wild Turtles, Nongame Wildlife
AUSTIN, Texas — The Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission on May 24 approved a measure that will prohibit commercial collection of all wild turtles from public waters and public land in the state, but will still allow collection of three varieties of turtles on private property, including ranch stock tanks and farm ponds. The turtle provisions are part of new Texas nongame regulations that create a “white list” of 84 species which can be collected and sold and prohibit the commercial collection of all other nongame animals not on the list. The new regulations are designed to help monitor and regulate the escalating commercial collection and sale of wild turtles, snakes, and other nongame animals (species not covered under hunting and fishing regulations) in Texas. The change will protect at least 15 species of turtles and more than 200 other nongame wildlife species that are not on the white list. Besides new reporting and documentation required under the new white list regulations, the department is contracting with Texas A&M University to begin researching the issue this fall. Starting Sept. 1, the university research team began a study of the nongame wildlife trade which will ultimately yield recommendations for long-term monitoring.
New Paddling Trails Open in Bastrop and Goliad
BASTROP, Texas — City and state officials came together Nov. 3 to officially launch the newest Texas Paddling Trail. El Camino Real Paddling Trail is a six-mile long route along the Colorado River that begins at Fisherman’s Park in downtown Bastrop. The trail will become the fourth inland paddling trail in Texas. To celebrate the launch, the City of Bastrop also hosted NatureFest, a day-long celebration of the rich outdoor ecosystem that encompasses the Lost Pines Region of Texas.
GOLIAD, Texas — Paddling and nature enthusiasts celebrated the official opening of the newest Texas Paddling Trail in historic Goliad April 25. Officials from the Canoe Trail Goliad Committee, the San Antonio River Authority and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department will participate in a ribbon-cutting ceremony at Goliad State Par. The newly designated 6.6 mile segment of the San Antonio River in Goliad County becomes the state’s third inland paddling trail — the first on a Texas river that is anchored by a state park. The Goliad Paddling Trail is the culmination of several years’ work by the Canoe Trail Goliad committee, SARA and TPWD and is the second paddling trail to come online this year.
The Texas Paddling Trails program was created to develop public inland and coastal paddling trails throughout the state and support these trails with maps, signage and other information. The trails provide well-mapped accessible day trips in a variety of settings for all levels of paddling experience. There are currently seven coastal paddling trails in Texas, and the Bastrop trail will be the fourth inland paddling trail, with several communities in the process of applying for participation in the program.
Boaters Reminded ‘Nobody’s Waterproof,’ Safety Encouraged
AUSTIN, Texas — Texas had 47 boating fatalities in 2006,
surpassing 40 for the first time since 2002, when the state led the nation with 61. Most of those tragedies were preventable, since on average 85 percent of boating fatality drowning victims who drowned were not wearing a life jacket when recovered. With those sobering facts in mind, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and its partners launched a fresh public education and water safety initiative. The new approach enlists country music star Kevin Fowler, who’s come on board to help connect with a key target audience. “Nobody’s Waterproof™” is a fun, interactive social marketing campaign targeting 18-to-34-year-old boaters, especially young men, whom statistics show are most at risk. It is sponsored by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) and Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA). The campaign was developed in 2006 by LCRA and EnviroMedia Social Marketing, Inc. and has won state, regional and national awards. This year, through an agreement with LCRA, TPWD is working to expand the initiative outside the Colorado River watershed to other Texas metropolitan areas.
Million Dollar Bass Tourney Comes to Top Texas Lake
LINDALE, Texas — Lake Fork is undisputedly the top largemouth bass lake in Texas, maybe in the world. But until this year it has been notably absent from the national bass fishing tournament schedule due to stringent slot limits. April 13–15, the Toyota Texas Bass Classic brought to these waters 160 professional anglers and a $1 million purse. The three-day event featured activities for the entire family and $250,000 in proceeds to benefit Texas Parks and Wildlife Department youth fishing and outreach programs. Other tournaments have requested variances to the lake’s slot — currently 16–24 inches — and been denied. The Toyota Texas Bass Classic instead worked with TPWD officials to design a tournament that worked with the existing slot limits. The first place team prize was $250,000 and the angler who catches the biggest bass of the tournament will win a 2007 Toyota Tundra pickup. Any angler who beats the current state record — an 18.18-pound fish caught on Lake Fork in 1992 — will also win $100,000 and a new boat. It’s the richest no-entry-fee tournament in history.
Caprock Canyons State Park Unveils New Visitor Center
QUITAQUE, Texas — Caprock Canyons State Park celebrated its 25th anniversary and the grand opening of its new $1 million visitor center with a host of activities Oct. 19–20 at the park. The 4,400-square-foot Visitor Center is part of a major park project that also includes a new group meeting pavilion, adjacent bison viewing platform overlooking the Texas State Bison Herd pasture, wayside signage, a parking lot and 24-hour restrooms. Exhibits to be installed later inside and outside the Visitors Center will interpret outstanding park features. The visitor center also includes a State Park Store, storage space, lobby and registration area and park administrative offices. In addition, the project includes a park map, interpretive panels on bison conservation at the overlook and panels offering in-depth interpretation of park geology, selected park areas and various trails.
Cronkite Narrates “Texas The State Of Springs” Documentary
AUSTIN, Texas — In parts of Texas, springs have ceased flowing. Once-mighty water sources like Comanche Springs in Fort Stockton have run dry from over pumping. Aquifers are increasingly scrutinized by regulators and irrigators who nervously watch well pumps and water tables. Against this backdrop, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department aired its latest video documentary about water resources. “Texas the State of Springs” aired Feb. 15 on Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) stations statewide. The one-hour TV program is part of a broader TPWD public information initiative that began with a special water resource issue of Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine in July 2002 and continuing every July since. The initiative also includes radio, Internet and other components. Broadcast news legend Walter Cronkite will again lend his distinctive voice to this latest project, as he did for TPWD’s last water resource TV documentary “Texas: the State of Water — Finding A Balance” in 2005.