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To Love the Beautiful: The Story of Texas State Parks

A New Deal for Texas State Parks: A Vision for Texas State Parks

Plan for the entrance of Longhorn Cavern



Plan for the Entrance to Longhorn Cavern,Texas State Parks Board, Civilian Conservation Corps plans and drawings, Archives and Information Services Division, Texas State Library and Archives.




CCC boys swimming at Big Bend, 1934

It was not all work for the CCC boys. Swimming in Cat-Tail Canyon in the Chisos Mountains, Big Bend State Park, 1934. Don R. Brice of Hamlin is in front.

#1989/6-225, Don R. Brice Collection, Prints and Photographs Collection, Archives and Information Services Division, Texas State Library and Archives.

The sites selected for Texas state parks varied widely according to the area of the state, but some features were common to all. Park planners emphasized what they called a “pioneer encounter” with serene, unspoiled beauty. The sites needed trees, the presence of stone outcroppings and boulders, and a compact terrain with plenty of variety for interesting hiking. The presence of water recreation was a must, and many of the projects included the creation of dams, swimming pools, and lakes for this purpose.

To make them attractive to visitors, the ideal park would be within driving distance of a major urban area. Only the most spectacular scenery, such as Palo Duro, Big Bend, and the Davis Mountains, justified creating parks in more remote areas of the state. Camping areas were planned for all the parks.

The famous standards evolved by the National Park Service were the guiding star for the design of the parks. The NPS style was naturalistic. Visitor cottages and lodges and park pavilions would be low and unobtrusive, constructed with local stone and woodwork. The camping and activity areas would be planted with native and naturalized trees. Ideally, the landscape would be left as untouched as possible; the only changes would be to facilitate visitor enjoyment and safety. (In practice, visitor considerations often require extensive alterations to nature in both national and state parks.)

With rare freedom, architects and landscape architects studied and replicated features from old pioneer cabins, even borrowing old hardwood framing from abandoned cabins to create new visitor cabins and pavilions in the state parks. Some of the CCC camps had blacksmith shops and lumber mills to make maximum use of local craftsmen and materials.

Though they were in agreement on the appearance of the parks, Texas parks officials clashed with the National Park Service over the purpose of the parks. The NPS believed the primary purpose of a park was to protect nature, while Texas officials emphasized recreation and good times for vacationers. While the two goals were not necessarily incompatible, the different philosophies led to friction, particularly when Texas officials wanted to hold big opening day festivities in the new parks with lots of hoopla and fun, a sharp contrast to the NPS philosophy of facilitating a peaceful retreat into nature.

Fred Emery to James Guleke, May 1933


Stupendous Palo Duro Canyon seemed destined to become a national park. But the land was heavily encumbered by an elaborate system of liens, mostly owed to Chicago businessman Fred Emery, who had put up the money to buy the land for the state of Texas. In this letter, Emory makes an impassioned plea to Amarillo attorney James Guleke, arguing for the value of the land as a park opposed to pasturage. Apparently convinced, Guleke would become the driving force behind the construction of the Goodnight Trail into Palo Duro.


A.R. Henry to R.O. Whiteaker, 1936


By federal mandate, state parks were wildlife sanctuaries, and hunting was forbidden. Not all Texans got the word.



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Page last modified: November 7, 2016