On November 7, Texans voted for a historic investment of $1 billion to create new state parks across my home state of Texas.
If you believe the stereotype, Texans don’t care much about the environment, especially lands protected and managed by the government. That stereotype fails to explain, though, why so many Texans spend hot days tubing down the river in Guadalupe River State Park and cool(er) fall and winter days hiking Enchanted Rock and Big Bend Ranch State Park.
Texas state parks are also home to the state’s iconic bluebonnets, mesquite trees and mockingbirds. Countless Texas kids, at some point or another, have had a photo taken in a field of bluebonnets, which are protected under state law as a result of Lady Bird Johnson’s 1960s-era campaign to protect Texan wildflowers.
Now Texans of all backgrounds–urban and rural, newcomer and fifth generation, Republican, Libertarian and Democrat–have come together for another great outdoor cause: making sure more of Texas’ incredible wildlands stay wild and accessible to current and future generations of Texans and visitors. Gov. Greg Abbott expressed his support for the state parks expansion the morning of Election Day when he reminded Texans to get to the polls.
The Public Interest Network’s state environmental group Environment Texas campaigned for the expansion, and benefited from the coincidence of the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Texas State Park System in 2023, as well as a surplus in the state budget.
Most importantly, Environment Texas worked with fellow state park enthusiasts and supporters of all backgrounds, such as influential Dallas businessman and conservative activist Doug Deason and Grammy award-winning singer-songwriter and Texas native Kacey Musgraves, who narrated our video promoting the expansion of Texas’ state park system.
To make our case to the public, we found that Texas ranks 35th in the nation for per capita state park acreage, behind Florida, South Carolina and Kansas. If there’s anything Texans don’t want, it’s to be 35th in the nation in something we care about. This statistic featured prominently in our report, “A Most Valuable Legacy: Investing in the next 100 years for Texas’ state parks system,” and it ended up cited repeatedly by Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission Chairman and founder of truck stop convenience store chain Buc-ee’s Arch “Beaver” Aplin III and and others over the course of the campaign.
We then successfully rallied state lawmakers of all political persuasions to pass a bill putting our idea on the ballot this fall. And now, with more than 76% of voters supporting the measure, Texas has committed to the biggest investment in nature and conservation that the state has ever seen. A few years ago it seemed like a hugely improbable dream to devote $1 billion dollars to the state parks. Now, with help from a wide range of bipartisan supporters, it’s a reality.
From Lady Bird’s bluebonnets and the 1980s “Don’t Mess with Texas” anti-littering campaign to this latest victory for state parks, Texans have demonstrated they care deeply about protecting the wild places that make Texas so special. We are proud to be part of protecting Texas’ natural heritage for the next one hundred years and beyond.
Thank you to Sen. Tan Parker (R-Flower Mound), Rep. Armando Walle (D-Houston) and Gov. Greg Abbott. Congratulations to Environment Texas Executive Director Luke Metzger, our many conservation partners and of course, Texas voters.
President and Executive Director, The Public Interest Network
Doug is President and Executive Director of The Public Interest Network. As director of MASSPIRG starting in 1979, he conceived and helped organize the Fund for the Public Interest, U.S. PIRG, National Environmental Law Center, Green Century Capital Management, Green Corps and Environment America, among other groups. Doug ran the public interest careers program at the Harvard Law School from 1976-1986. He is a graduate of Colorado State University and the Harvard Law School.