State Parks in Financial Trouble
by: Bill Stamps, December 6, 2011 5:12:00 pm
It's forty degrees outside and park superintendent Robert Comstock walks down a long trail the leads to an observation tower. From the tower you can immediately see the damage the summer heat caused to Sheldon Lake.
"Where you see this dry dirt, that's our beach, so to speak. That should be water."
The lake was never that deep to begin with — only about six feet. But thanks to the drought, it has lost more than four feet of water.
"You'd look out there normally and you'd see a bird standing up in the water out there, which would tell you that there's about 4-6 inches of water."
Scott Boruff works for the State Parks and Wildlife Department. He says a number of issues this summer created one big disaster that created a $4.6 million dollar budget gap. Although several parks were burned by wildfires, Boruff says it was the drought that caused the biggest problem when water levels began to drop.
"For example, many people bring their boats and kayaks and canoes to the state parks. Many, many, if not most, of our park's boat ramps are out of the water. You can't back your boat into the lake anymore. The water is so low you can't get into the water."
The drought also meant no burning, something people like to do at parks.
"At one point this last summer every county in Texas had a burn ban. And a lot of people, who go to parks, like to have a camp fire. That's one of the main things they do. And when there's a burn ban and you can't have a camp fire, and you can't float down the river in your canoe."
It all added up to more people staying away from state parks this year, and the parks losing millions they would have collected from entrance fees as well as fees for camping. The state is asking the public's help by either making a tax deductible donation online or by donating next year when you renew your vehicle registration. The burn bans are being lifted which could bring more people back to the parks, but the water levels are still low which means no boating or fishing in the near future.