To Love the Beautiful: The Story of Texas State Parks
The Texas State Parks Board
Pat Neff and Texas State Parks
Pat Neff was a bookish, brilliant attorney who had gained his reputation as a merciless prosecutor. His detractors hooted that the reform-minded governor had “never fired a gun or baited a hook.”
#1970/93-3. Prints and Photographs Collection, Archives and Information Services Division, Texas State Library and Archives Commission.
In 1920, Texas voters went to the polls and elected the first governor and legislature to be heavily influenced by the progressive movement. As events would demonstrate, Governor Pat Neff proved to have a deeper commitment to the Texas outdoors than any politician the state had ever produced.
In 1923, Governor Pat Neff persuaded the legislature to create the State Parks Board. He later regarded this action as his most important achievement as governor. But Neff’s vision couldn’t have been more different than the Rooseveltian impulse that spurred the creation of the national parks. Neff was less interested in purple mountains majesty than in building campgrounds for Texans who, like himself, loved to travel by automobile. In days of old, travelers simply camped out in any inviting spot they happened to find at day’s end. A system that had worked fine when travel was difficult and most people never ventured more than a few miles from their homes was breaking down under the overwhelming numbers now zipping around the state by car.
Texas hunters, circa 1920.
Prints and Photographs, Texas Game, Fish, & Oyster Commission. Archives and Information Services Division, Texas State Library and Archives.
In this 1925 speech, Neff notes that "pioneers have rarely recognized the value of play," but a parks system would afford a place where people "might go and forget the anxiety and strife and vexation of life's daily grind." Neff reported that in the course of one year, he and the Parks Board traveled over 8000 miles to promote the state parks concept, and received in donations 52 tracts of land. To develop the donations into usable parks, he asked the legislature for $50,000— which he did not get.