AUSTIN, Texas – Because of a sponsorship revenue decline related to the economic recession and increased operational costs, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department is cancelling the Texas Parks & Wildlife Expo set for Oct. 3-4 in Austin. The agency will suspend the Austin event for at least this year and 2010 and will instead expand efforts to support similar events around the state.
“This was a difficult and painful decision, but after looking hard at the financial realities and seeking creative ways to keep the event going, we finally concluded that the economic recession is affecting sponsor support to the extent that it is not viable to stage Expo,” said Carter Smith, TPWD executive director.
The Expo has remained free to the public since its inception in 1992 thanks to sponsor support, but initial sponsor commitments this year have declined significantly. The Expo operating budget is more than $400,000 in hard costs per year, money used to rent tents and contract for the many other services needed to stage the festival. That operating budget has been largely underwritten by sponsors, and the declining sponsorship revenue means the resources needed to stage Expo are simply not there.
The annual Expo has been billed as America’s largest free, family-oriented festival of the outdoors, drawing more than 35,000 visitors from across the state to TPWD headquarters in Austin. Held the first weekend of October, the event has allowed visitors of all ages to try activities like fishing, shooting, birding, photography, camping, climbing, mountain biking and more with gear and guidance provided free, plus free entry and free parking and shuttle bus service.
“We will suspend Expo in 2009 and 2010 while we focus on expanding our outreach efforts statewide through partnerships with other organizations and through events held at our own facilities,” said Ernie Gammage, TPWD Urban Outdoors Programs leader and Expo director. “Participating in existing events relieves a considerable financial burden while still allowing us to reach our desired audiences.”
“Our goal remains the same: to engage underserved audiences and bring more people into the world of the great outdoors,” Gammage said. “One of our core beliefs is that recreation leads to conservation. By introducing Texans, especially urban Texans, to outdoor recreation, the outdoors becomes more relevant to them. They come to care about it and finally to care for it.”
The department has in recent years pursued a deliberate strategy to partner with outside groups staging “Expo-like” events in various Texas cities, with goals to select events that reach larger audiences and achieve geographic and audience diversity across the state. Examples include stock shows and rodeos plus events targeted to minority audiences like Cinco de Mayo and Diez y Seis, and the Toyota Texas Bass Classic in October.
Gammage said TPWD plans to evaluate the situation in August 2010, and at that time determine whether Expo in Austin could be reinstituted in 2011, or whether the alternate model of emphasizing statewide events should continue. Meanwhile, TPWD continues to actively seek and accept sponsor support for outreach events and similar efforts.
More information about statewide events and opportunities involving nature, history and the outdoors is on the TPWD Web site events calendar.