By Senator John Cornyn
Whether it's a refreshing dip in the crystal clear waters of the Frio River or horseback-riding on the trails of the Palo Duro Canyon, Texas is home to 95 diverse state parks, historic sites, and natural areas that offer countless excursions for Texans and the millions who visit our state each year. This month marks the 50th anniversary of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD), an agency with a rich history of protecting, cultivating and showcasing Texas' vibrant lands and wildlife.
From fishing and hiking to paddling and camping, Texas parks offer inexpensive activities for tourists, families, students and outdoor enthusiasts year-round. Every spring, Lyndon B. Johnson State Park is painted with the bright colors of Texas wildflowers. Visitors can swim, fish, hike and picnic against the beautiful spring backdrop complete with bison, Texas longhorns and buffalo. The park also boasts an impressive Visitor's Center including memorabilia from President Johnson's time in office.
During the summer, the options are endless for Texans looking for a break from the sweltering heat. TPWD has more than 50 designated paddling trails to make the most of Texas' 200 major lakes, 190,000 miles of rivers, and more than 300 miles of coastland. Many parks offer paddle-boat, canoe, kayak, and lifejacket rentals. At Mustang Island State Park, go kayaking, bird-watching and fishing on the paddling trails that pass through one of the few undeveloped barrier island habitats on the Texas Gulf Coast. Towering sand dunes protect the rich vegetation and wildlife on Mustang Island, including bulrushes, cattails, sedges and over 400 species of birds.
Each fall, autumn foliage decorates parks across the state, from the red and orange leaves of the majestic Bigtooth maples at the Lost Maples State Natural Area to the golden hues of the cottonwoods at Daingerfield State Park in East Texas.
During the cooler temperatures of the winter months, nature trails and hikes abound in Texas parks. Serious hikers enjoy the 19-mile Rancherias Backpacking Loop through Big Bend Ranch State Park, which takes them through canyons, over ridges, and across flat-topped hills called mesas. Fredericksburg is home to Enchanted Rock State Natural Area, which centers on a massive, pink granite rock that rises 425 feet above ground--the second largest formation of its kind in the country. Legend has it that Tonkawa Indians named it after a Spanish Conquistador cast a spell on the formation and caused magical fires to glow on its peak.
In Texas, we do things bigger and better, and that's no exception when it comes to our state parks. I congratulate the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department on 50 years of careful preservation of our precious lands, and I encourage all Texans to take advantage of the natural beauty our vast park system affords us.