To Love the Beautiful: The Story of Texas State Parks
A New Deal for Texas State Parks
Colp Plays Hardball
Gearing up in Texas, CCC district officers soon discovered that the State Parks Board had no office, no employees, and an annual budget of just $375. The CCC decided to bypass the Parks Board and work directly with a new agency, the Texas Relief Commission. By the time the first six-month enlistments were up, “CCC boys,” as they were universally known, were clearing brush, grading roads, and working on construction for 26 park projects in Texas.
Many of these projects came directly from David Colp’s wish list, including roads, cottages, and swimming pools for “big parks” at Caddo Lake, Palo Duro Canyon, and the Davis Mountains. It was at this point that Colp, long dismissed as well-meaning but ineffectual, discovered his ability to play political hardball. Colp and Pat Neff, who was now on the Parks Board, directly telegraphed federal officials in Washington to assert the Parks Board as the sole authority to administer federal funding for Texas parks.
The CCC could play that game too, replying that the agency would be happy to work with the Parks Board—provided the Texas legislature would appropriate at least $22,500 for a year’s worth of staff salaries, office space, and equipment for the parks. Otherwise, the CCC would cancel the Texas parks projects.
Now it was up to the legislature. Not surprisingly to long-time observers of parks issues in Texas, the legislators closed their 1934 special session without appropriating a single additional cent for parks. But Colp didn’t give up, mounting a campaign through the newspapers for an emergency appropriation. Governor Miriam Ferguson, not wanting to lose the vital projects, committed an emergency one-time $25,000 to the State Parks Board.
After ten years of struggle without funds or support, the State Parks Board was really in the parks business at last—if only for a year. Before the money could evaporate, Colp hired a chief engineer, architect, landscape architect, construction superintendent, and 17 support personnel, and outfitted the group with five autos and lumber, paint, and other shop supplies to build park furniture and equipment. Ever the optimist, Colp promised the CCC that the State Parks Board stood ready to take over the load in operating the parks once the construction projects were complete.
Wildlife Conservation in the 1930s
During the Great Depression, the sports hunting on which the Texas Game, Fish, & Oyster Commission relied for revenue went into a sharp decline. Beginning in 1929, the sale of hunting licenses spiraled downwards. Game wardens were forced to accept a whopping 20% pay cut and others on the staff a cut of 10%. The number of game wardens was reduced to a mere 65 men.
In many parts of Texas, game wardens were not taken seriously, and sometimes even found themselves in shootouts with poachers. Other problems were caused by the many exceptions written into the game laws so that, as Executive Secretary W.J. Tucker wrote, “...we now have one set of regulations for one side of a stream and another set of laws for the other side. We now have on the statute books more than 500 applications of local laws.”
In spite of these thorny issues, the federal New Deal made the 1930s a landmark decade in terms of conservation and public recreation. The 1937 Pittman-Robertson Act ignited the wildlife recovery process by taxing rifles, shotguns, and ammunition (later expanded to include handguns and archery equipment). Possessed of three times the wildlife resources as any other state, Texas was eligible to receive the maximum grant amount, more than $40,000 the first year, and was the first state to take advantage of the federal money.
Over the years, Pittman-Robertson has funded most wildlife research in the United States, built shooting ranges, educated thousands of hunters annually, and allowed for the purchase and management of millions of acres of habitat.