To Love the Beautiful: The Story of Texas State Parks
Texas Parks Go To War
Big Bend is one of the outstanding scenic areas not only of Texas, but of the world. In spite of its status as a national park, it remains largely unaltered by human activity.
Prints and Photographs Collection #1991/77-302-29. Archives and Information Services Division, Texas State Library and Archives.
The Parks Board expected the number of visitors to drop sharply at the parks during the war, due to gas and tire rationing. However, except for remote parks in West Texas, the number of visitors actually rose, with people sticking close to home for vacations and the use of the parks by servicemen.
The war was not without its challenges for the Parks Board, however. Some parks were damaged by wartime uses, including grazing and oil exploration. The Parks Board also entered into an ugly feud with the Board of Control when that agency attempted to gain control of Inks Lake and Longhorn Cavern so that they could house mental patients in the old CCC barracks.
The State Parks Board achieved a long-time dream with the purchase in 1942 of the land needed for Big Bend National Park. The deed was transferred to the federal government at the White House on June 6, 1944, the day of the D-Day invasion of Europe. Texas park officials would later recall that President Roosevelt asked a great many questions about the land, scenery, and plans for the park, showing that conservation was still high on his list of interests in spite of the tremendous burdens of war.
World War II changed Texas profoundly, not least because veterans returned home with new ideas and highly developed leadership skills. Ultimately, it would be the veterans of World War II who would lead Texas parks in a more dynamic direction. Before then, though, the state parks would endure some of their darkest days.
Frank Quinn, at right, hosted the National Conference on State Parks at Big Bend after the war. Park superintendent Ross Maxwell stands at left. The forceful Quinn was one of the key figures in the development of Texas state parks, serving as executive secretary of the Parks Board from 1939-45 and as a board member until 1961.
Executive correspondence and program dedication files, 1950-51, Texas State Parks Board Big Bend National Park files, Archives and Information Services Division, Texas State Library and Archives Commission.
Even before Pearl Harbor, Frank Quinn, executive secretary of the Parks Board, and Maxwell Taylor, commander of the Twelfth Field Artillery at Fort Sam Houston, corresponded about military uses for the state parks. Taylor went on to great fame as a commander in World War II and Korea and later served as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The major event of the war years for the State Parks Board was the acquisition of the land that became Big Bend National Park. Hundreds of small landholders had to be tracked down and offered the choice of selling their land at $1 or $2 per acre or having the property condemned. Landholders were often shocked to learn how little their land was worth.
State parks were touched in many ways by the war. Some gave over their cabins to soldiers and their wives, others housed hospital camps, and most hosted events for soldiers preparing for war. In his weekly report from Mineral Wells State Park, the usually jovial manager, John H. Gill, sounds a somber note.