Funding has been increased for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department after a decade of money being drained for other uses.
State Rep. Lyle Larson said this year should see vast improvements in parks across the state that have been left to deteriorate thanks to a lack of funding.
“We're back-funding some of that and we're going to bring the parks back up to a condition that most people expect,” Larson said. “We've got somewhere between a $400 million and $600 million deferred maintenance throughout the park system.”
Beyond parks, the TPWD pays for stocking fish in waterways across the state.
That includes the stocking of rainbow trout at Miller's Pond on the southwest side of San Antonio about every two weeks in the winter.
Chris Thibodeaux, with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, stocked the pond with a thousand fish in November. He also put the same number of fish in at Southside Lions Park.
"We're stocking rainbow trout as part of our neighborhood fishing program,” Thibodeaux said. "It's just to provide an opportunity for a lot of our inner city kids and adults to have an opportunity to come out and catch rainbow trout."
The fish stocking is one of the programs funded through a sporting-goods tax established in 1993, which also pays for the parks.
For every fishing pole and tennis racquet purchased in Texas, part of the tax goes to a fund to pay for parks and wildlife programs.
Fishermen like Joe Silvas follow the TPWD on the Internet and on the ground and are ready to fish when the lakes are stocked.
"We really enjoy it,” Silvas said. “You know it brings the family together to be able to spend some time during the holidays."
Larson said that for the last decade funding for state parks and programs like this have been diverted elsewhere and parks have suffered but that the last legislature turned that around.
“In the last session (State House) Speaker (Joe) Straus said we needed to start curtailing some of the diversions (of money from) both in parks and highways and other dedicated funding streams,” Larson said. “We'll start bringing parcels of property that have been dedicated back into the state park system.”
He said the sporting goods tax raises $250 million a year but in the past only $76 million per year was spent on parks.
Now he said that figure is more like $123 million.
He hopes soon it will be $200 million and then the full amount because he knows the need is out there.
"You have seen some dilapidated buildings that need to be fixed up," Larson said. "We're putting more funding in place. We're going to put our parks in a condition that we're all proud of."
Silvas said parks programs are appropriate ways to spend tax dollars.
"We need more funding,” Silvas said. “We definitely need more funding."
Larson said it was a lack of discipline in the legislature that led to the park funds being spent elsewhere and that lean budget years did not help.
With the economy recovering and revenues on the upswing, he said parks will be the benefactors.