Friends of Doctor’s Creek heading to Austin Jan. 17
Cooper Lake park advocates joining others in trying to increase funding for TP&WD
Patti Sells | News-Telegram Feature Editor

Dec. 31, 2006 - Friends of Doctor's Creek State Park will be traveling to Austin Wednesday, Jan. 17, to join other supporters from across Texas for a full day of advocating the restoration of funding to the state parks of Texas.

Anyone interested in joining this endeavor is asked to sign up for the trip no later than 5 p.m. Friday, Jan. 5, by calling 903-395-4314.

"Our parks are in grave danger of being closed permanently if we do not make enough noise to be heard and convince legislators to restore funding to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department," said Gracie Young, Friends of Doctor's Creek treasurer. "This trip is for people interested in state parks all over Texas. This is our opportunity to meet with legislators and let them know how we feel.

"We need to have a big turnout," she added.

The Friends of Doctor's Creek group plans to charter a bus and leave from the south side of the downtown Cooper square at 5 a.m. in order to be at the state capitol in time for meetings that begin at 10 a.m. Everyone who is "willing and able" is encouraged to sign up for the trip and join them in Austin, according to Young, who said a nominal fee of no more than $20 may be collected to defray the cost of the chartered bus. At least 50 supporters are needed for the charter. If less than 50 sign up, the group will car pool, according to Young.

"It is a long way down there, but it's so important to keep funding available to keep our parks open and operating," Young emphasized.

For the past 13 years funding for Texas state parks has been on the decline, and with it, so have park conditions, in spite of a 1993 sporting goods tax designed to help keep them maintained.

The tax designed to fund Texas Parks and Wildlife Department generates more than $100 million annually, but due to a $32 million revenue cap passed in 1995, parks see only one-fifth of the dedicated tax, according to reports. The remainder of the funds go into the state's general fund, where lawmakers are able to direct it toward other agencies and uses other than those for which the tax was originally intended.

A telling statistic: The department operates a fleet of 960 vehicles. Since 2003, only three have been replaced.

According to reports, lawmakers have also withheld tens of millions of dollars from specialty license plates and hunting and fishing fees. All are contributing factors in the deteriorating condition and layoffs at many Texas state parks.

The state offers four conservation license plates — featuring horned lizards, bluebonnets, white-tailed deer and largemouth bass — created to raise money for state parks. The parks department's conservation fund from the license plate money goes was estimated at $4.3 million on Aug. 31. Lawmakers gave the parks system $106,000 from the conservation fund for fiscal 2006.

Operations and staffing of the Doctor's Creek Unit on the Delta County side of Cooper Lake were cut last year due to the lack of funding, and the park was closed to weeknight camping earlier this year, leaving travelers only weekend camping amenities. 

"It's not only the the people of our area who are affected, but our visitors who come from far and near to camp at Doctor's Creek and other Texas parks," explained Young. "Doctor's Creek is a beautiful park, and people from all over enjoy it. We need all the help we can get to keep it and other parks open."

It is the hope of Friends of Doctor's Creek and other supporters and lobbyists to raise or possibly eliminate the revenue cap and guarantee adequate resources to Texas state parks where, according to reports, more than 10 million people visit each year producing an economic impact of nearly $800 million.

Also on the agenda, however, is to hold lawmakers accountable for spending allocated taxes in other areas.

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