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To Love the Beautiful: The Story of Texas State Parks

A New Deal for Texas State Parks: Growing Up

After the spillway collapse, Huntsville State Park, 1940

CCC company 1823, an African-American company, built a lodge, picnic areas, and a dam at Huntsville State Park, creating Lake Raven. In November 1940, a devastating flood caused the dam spillway to fail and destroyed the lake. It was not until the 1950s that the State Parks Board was authorized to sell timber from the park area to raise money to rebuild the dam. Huntsville State Park opened in 1956.

Acquisition and development files, Huntsville State Park, Texas State Parks Board Records, Archives and Information Services Division, Texas State Library and Archives.

Over the course of the 1930s, the CCC developed 41 state parks for Texas. Of these, 32 were managed by the State Parks Board, and the other nine were historic parks managed by the Board of Control. Some $20 million in federal money was spent in Texas on state, local, and roadside parks.

One of the unintended side effects of the New Deal was to create expectations and demand for new programs that then had to be continued by states that had never funded them in the past. Parks were a good example. Texas matched only 2% of the federal spending on parks. As the 1930s wore on and New Deal spending began to decline, the question of sustainability arose. If the CCC projects were to have lasting value, Texas had to commit to operating and maintaining the parks. This meant the parks were back to competing with other ongoing expenditures for schools, prisons, highways, and social welfare programs.

The reality fell short of the expectations of the National Park Service. The Texas Legislature would agree to allocate only enough funds to keep the parks open six months of the year, shuttering them in winter despite mild temperatures in most of the state. By the end of the decade, there was talk of closing two of the most spectacular parks, Palmetto and Palo Duro, to save money. In the unkindest cut of all, Governor Allred vetoed the appropriation needed to buy land for the development of Big Bend National Park. Allred later pleaded ignorance, saying he didn’t even know Texas was in the running for a national park, let alone that boosters had been working with the Parks Board and the National Park Service for years to make it a reality.

A disgusted National Park Service announced that Texas would be cut off from all additional CCC work by July 1, 1939. This threatened cutback spurred the legislature to appropriate $68,000 in annual funding. This amount was still well below federal expectations but enough to save a few CCC projects. The legislature took several additional measures to make the system more sustainable, including dedicating the proceeds from concessions to park staffing and maintenance and sharing responsibility for road maintenance with the Highway Department.

It was fortunate that Texas stepped up to take responsibility for the parks system because World War II spelled the end of most New Deal programs, including the CCC. It was disbanded in 1942.

Texas game warden and Mexican river guard

 

While the Parks Board struggled to make the transition to self-sufficiency, the Game, Fish, & Oyster Commission grappled with law enforcement challenges that included an international border. In this undated photo, Game Warden Pete Crawford shakes hands with a mounted Mexican "fiscales" or river guard.

Prints and Photographs, Texas Game, Fish, & Oyster Commission. Archives and Information Services Division, Texas State Library and Archives.

 

 

Memorabilia from Meridian State Park, around 1937

 

 

The CCC built a 75-acre lake and a beautiful recreation area at Meridian State Park near Waco. Early visitors could enjoy swimming and festivities.

 

 

 

Wendell Mays to Governor O'Daniel, 1940

 

 

The threat of war came to dominate public discourse after World War II broke out in Europe. In 1940, the State Parks Board volunteered their services to Governor Pappy O'Daniel.

 

 

Page from Parks Service Code, 1941

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Executive Secretary Frank Quinn knew that state parks had many competitors for tourist dollars. In 1941, he and his staff drafted a code of service modeled after that used by the famed Statler hotel chain.

 

 

 

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Page last modified: November 7, 2016