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Record heat, drought, wildfires spark $4.6 million appeal for help

From Texas Parks and Wildlife Department

-- Texas Park and Wildlife has made an appeal for the public to visit state parks and make donations to help offset a revenue loss caused by heat, drought, wildfires and a resulting drop in park visitor revenue.

"A triple whammy of record heat and drought, devastating wildfires and a corresponding decline in visitation and revenue has created a critical need for Texas state parks," according to Carter Smith, executive director. "So, we are reaching out for help."

Visitor fees fund about half the $69 million operating budget for the state park system, subject to legislative appropriations. For many years, there's been a steady upward trend, with more people visiting parks generating more revenue to operate them--until this year.

Through the summer and into early fall, traditionally a busy time for parks, many Texans stayed home because of the dry heat. Shriveling lakes and rivers disrupted swimming, fishing and boating, and burn bans prevented campfires. Also, three popular state parks--Bastrop, Davis Mountains and Possum Kingdom--suffered major wildfire damage and produced no revenue for weeks, though all are now back open to varying degrees.

As a result, in August state park system revenue declined 25 percent compared to the same month last year. Since then, revenue is down 11 percent--improving, but still not close to what is needed.

"The bottom line is we have a $4.6 million gap in our 2012 park system operating budget," Smith said. "This is the amount we need to raise to help keep state parks open. We want to alert people now while there is still time to help."

The multi-faceted awareness campaign stresses three calls to action for the public:

1)  Go to www.tpwd.state.tx.us/helpparks to make a tax-deductible, year-end donation.
2)  Starting Jan. 1, make a donation at the time motor vehicle registration is renewed.
3)   Visit state parks. Visitor fees pay for about half of park system operating costs.

"Cooler weather makes fall and winter a fine time to visit state parks, which are great places for holiday outings and gatherings," said Brent Leisure, state parks director. "Also, recent rains are allowing many of our parks to lift burn bans. That's making campfires possible once again, an important tradition for many park visitors."

The Texas State Parks operating budget is based on legislative appropriations, but relies on revenue generated by visitor fees. Many state parks offer reduced camping fees during off-peak fall and winter months, especially for longer stays. Many parks have lifted burn bansócheck online for the latest information.

Dozens of state parks are hosting special holiday events in December. See http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/calendar/holidays for dates, locations and descriptions.

To learn about the various Texas State Parks and their offerings, or to make online camping reservations, visit http://www.texasstateparks.org. Or call state park information (800) 792-1112, option 3, between 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

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