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Texas lawmakers could fund Palo Pinto Mountains State Park

January 30, 2019

STRAWN, Texas (AP) — For 30 years, chicken fried steak lovers have been making the drive to dine at Mary’s Cafe in Strawn.

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports the restaurant was acclaimed for having the state’s best chicken fried steak. Besides six-man football, the cafe has been the primary reason to visit the town 75 miles west of Fort Worth.

“We’ve just been this small, little town out here for a 100 years, just kind of maintaining our own way, and except for chicken fried steak, nobody knows where we’re at,” said Strawn City Secretary Danny Miller.

But Miller and other Strawn residents have been patiently waiting for the one thing that could dramatically change their town of 654.

That’s the 4,400-acre Palo Pinto Mountains State Park.

The park includes 1,400-foot ridge lines, a 90-acre lake and two creeks surrounded by live oaks, post oaks and pecan trees.

But right now, there is little indication that it exists. Only Tucker Lake, west of Strawn, is open to the public.

Palo Pinto Mountains has been dubbed the “Metroplex’s playground” because it is designed to be a regional park for Fort Worth and Tarrant County. Its origins also go back to a 2008 killing at the Mule Lip bar in nearby Mingus.

To open, the park needs funding from legislators to go forward with building camp sites, roads and other facilities.

“The public has done its part, the city of Strawn and Palo Pinto County have done their part and now it’s time for the state to put up their share of the funding,” said Fort Worth resident George Bristol, a former member of the Audubon Texas board of directors and longtime advocate for state parks.

Legislation has been filed regarding the sporting goods sales tax, which was created in 1993 to fund state parks. But a portion of the funds have been set aside rather than being allocated. It is not a separate tax but a portion of the state sales tax generated from the sale of sporting goods.

Two pieces of legislation, Senate Joint Resolution 24 and House Joint Resolution 39, propose a constitutional amendment election in November to allow voters to decide whether to dedicate the sporting good sales tax to fund 95 state parks and 22 historical sites. More than 50 organizations have voiced support for the constitutional amendment.

Palo Pinto Mountains State Park’s initial seed money came from the sale of 400 acres of state land adjacent to Eagle Mountain Lake after officials decided it was too small.

The Tarrant Regional Water District, with the help of donations, purchased the land in April 2008 and it is now TRWD’s Eagle Mountain Park.

Legislators then voted in favor of using the $9.2 million from the Eagle Mountain sale for a new regional park.

Though no money was appropriated for the park in 2017, there is optimism that money will be allocated this time around.

Last session, the agency asked for $25 million for Palo Pinto Mountains. This time, the request is for $12.5 million.

Combined with Texas Department of Transportation funds to build roads and bridges as well as private donations, the park’s total cost to open will be between $28 million and $30 million, said Josh Havens, a Texas Parks & Wildlife spokesman.

“For now, our plans include a headquarters and visitor center, maintenance complex, day use areas around the lake and areas that overlook the canyon, multi-use camping areas, tent camping areas, equestrian trails and camping areas, and hike and bike trails,” Havens said via email.

Cabins were originally included, but now Havens will say only that they “may be part of future development plans.”

If the park is funded, Texas Parks & Wildlife could begin construction by 2020, Havens said.

Fort Worth attorney Ralph Duggins, chairman of the Texas Parks & Wildlife Commission, is hopeful the park will be funded this time around.

“The park plan is to focus on camping and a very natural experience,” Duggins said. “It’s not meant to turn it into an RV park.”

Part of Duggins’ optimism stems from the support of State Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, who was reappointed in January as chair of the Senate Finance Committee.

In a statement, Nelson said her interest in the park dates back to the Eagle Mountain state park site sale.

“Eagle Mountain Lake is part of my district, and I worked closely with local leaders to save that park from being sold off for private development,” Nelson said.. “Part of the deal was to develop a new state park within a short drive of Tarrant County, and I want to make sure that happens.

“As a grandmother, I want to preserve our parks and historic sites for future generations to enjoy,” Nelson said. “That is why the Senate budget allocates 100 percent of the sporting goods sales tax — which would be the largest appropriation in state history for parks and historic preservation.”

Barbara McKnight of Morgan Mill said the park is an unspoiled gem waiting to be discovered by park lovers. She’s been all over its 4,400 acres as a member of Texas Equestrian Trail Riders Association and a member of the Palo Pinto Park friends group. Only trail riding and astronomy groups have had events in the rugged park, which is known for its dark skies.

“It’s going to be quite an asset because it has been ranch land forever and it has not been overused,” McKnight said. “It’s beautiful with lots of steep rugged hills, Palo Pinto Creek and Tucker Lake, I think the lake is going to be one of the real drawing cards.”

And McKnight said the hills in the park are similar to what is seen in the Texas Hill Country.

“The views are amazing,” McKnight said. “You can see all the way to South Texas — or at least it feels like you can.”

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Information from: Fort Worth Star-Telegram, http://www.star-telegram.com

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