Friends of Doctor’s Creek make a show of force at state capitol

They take single largest group on grass roots lobbying effort for Texas state parks funding

BY PATTI SELLS | News-Telegram Feature Writer

Feb. 11, 2007 - Friends of Doctor's Creek State Park made an impressive appearance at the state capitol at the end of January as the single largest of many groups making the trip to advocate for the restoration of funding for the state parks of Texas.

Staff Photo

State Rep. Mark Homer (right) has co-authored a bill to boost funding for state parks

"We didn't go unnoticed," said Ron Lewis, president of the board of directors for Friends of Doctor's Creek, which carried 32 volunteers to Austin for the grass roots lobbying effort. "There were other groups and organizations attending, but when we were recognized and stood up-it brought the house down."

The group made the trip to Austin to make the wishes and hopes of the community known to legislators.

"The ones in our group did an exceptional job supporting our position," he said.

Supporters of Doctor's Creek Park traveled to Austin to show support for House Bill 6 and Senate Bill 252. State Rep. Mark Homer, who represents the area in the Texas House of Representatives, is a co-author of HB 6. The bills call for the full funding from a sporting goods tax that was designed to help keep parks maintained. 

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 the 1993 sporting goods tax.

The tax, which was created to fund Texas Parks and Wildlife Department parks, 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. 

The group that traveled to Austin on Jan. 31 included 14 students from the Cooper High School government class as well as two faculty members. They joined other volunteers from across the state and participated in orientation before dividing into four groups. 

"Our community is very proud and honored that Cooper ISD allowed the government class to attend," Lewis said.

The professionalism, maturity and courtesy conveyed by the students to the legislators was appreciated by everyone, according to Lewis.

"I want our community to be very proud because they represented you very well," he added.

The students and faculty did not stand on the sidelines and watch, according to Lewis. The Cooper group was assigned to the senators and representatives of an area east of Interstate 35 and north of Interstate 20 to the Oklahoma and Louisiana borders. They were actively involved in the discussions and interaction with legislators, and in return, legislators were very supportive of the students' input and recommendations.

According to Lewis, the January trip to Austin was only the first of many opportunities to show support for Texas state parks, specifically Doctor's Creek.

"There will be other committee meetings in Austin to attend, fund raisers for the park, and opportunities to create solid options to make the park a positive difference in our local economy," he explained.

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