North Texas is getting its first new state park in 25 years

North Texas is getting its first new state park in 25 years


STRAWN — Just hours after an early-morning downpour, the two-lane farm road is caked with fresh mud.

Thick clouds have settled over the tree-covered hilltops of the Palo Pinto Mountains. Nearby, a gleaming lake with a rugged shoreline is tucked into a narrow canyon.

About 75 miles west of Fort Worth in the tiny town of Strawn, this sprawling swath of Texas ranchland will soon be Palo Pinto Mountains State Park, the region’s first new state park in 25 years.

Officials with Texas Parks and Wildlife on Tuesday provided a peek at the nearly 5,000-acre park, which is expected to open in the second half of 2023, in time for the centennial of the state park system.

Park Superintendent James Adams said visitors from Dallas-Fort Worth unfamiliar with the Palo Pinto Mountains are often surprised by the rolling hills and 1,400-foot peaks.

“A lot of people don’t even realize this is here,” he said. “They thought this entire region was flat.”

Fall foliage at Palo Pinto Mountains State Park in Strawn on Oct. 11.(Shafkat Anowar / Staff Photographer)

When it opens, the state park will offer 16 to 18 miles of trails for hiking, biking and horse riding, an equestrian center and four separate campgrounds, including areas for primitive camping and RVs.

Tucker Lake, the park’s centerpiece, will accommodate fishing, swimming and boating, although motorboats will not be allowed.

Roughly 75,000 visitors, largely from Dallas-Fort Worth, are expected to visit the park each year, Adams said.

The park’s opening comes at a critical time: Texas is growing fast, with the population soon expected to hit 30 million. Park visitation skyrocketed during the COVID-19 pandemic and shows no signs of slowing, said David Kurtenbach, the state parks department’s business manager.

In 2021, Texas state parks recorded a record 9.94 million visitors. On average, parks are seeing a 2% to 5% jump in visitors each year. Next year, Kurtenbach said, the number of visitors is expected to top 10 million for the first time.

“The pandemic put a spotlight on the outdoors,” he said, “and that trend appears here to stay.”

Construction continues on the visitor center at Palo Pinto Mountains State Park on Tuesday.
Construction continues on the visitor center at Palo Pinto Mountains State Park on Tuesday.(Shafkat Anowar / Staff Photographer)

Texas, however, lags behind other states in public parkland, according to a recent report by the nonprofit Environment Texas Research and Policy Center. The state ranks 35th in the nation for state park acreage per capita.

Texas has 8 million more people than Florida, but 86,000 fewer acres of state parkland, the report says.

More state parks are on the way, including Powderhorn Ranch along Texas’ Gulf Coast and Chinati Mountains State Natural Area in West

Texas Parks State Director Rodney Franklin said the agency is working to increase the number of parks and park-goers.

“If the last few years have taught us anything, it is so important to get outside,” Franklin said. “It’s good for the mind, body and soul.”

Palo Pinto Mountains State Park has been in the works for more than a decade.

Texas Parks and Wildlife purchased the first chunk of land in 2011, using proceeds from the sale of property on Eagle Mountain Lake north of Fort Worth.

Construction of the park is being funded with about $21 million in public funds and more than $9 million in private donations.

Parks officials say the park’s proximity to Dallas-Fort Worth could help reach new outdoor enthusiasts.

“We want everyone to know state parks are for them,” Franklin said. “We want to introduce a new generation to state parks.”

Palo Pinto Mountains State Park Superintendent James Adams speaks at the site of the future...

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