As Texas State Parks’ yearlong birthday celebration winds down, we are looking back at the highlights from 2023.
“It has been a truly amazing year for Texas State Parks,” said Rodney Franklin, Director of Texas State Parks. “It has been a career highlight to see new visitors discover parks because of our celebrations and witness a year of milestones. Milestones made possible by our hardworking teams within the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, partnerships with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation and certainly H-E-B. I am forever grateful to Texans that helped us honor the legacy of 100 years of Texas State Parks but also expand the foundation of state parks for future generations of Texans.”
Here are some of the top achievements from the Texas State Parks Centennial Celebration:
- Texas State Parks received the 2023 National Gold Medal Award for Excellence in Park and Recreation Management in October. The award recognizes the best state park system in the country. The National Gold Medal Award Program is governed and administered by the American Academy for Park and Recreation Administration and announced at the National Recreation and Park Association annual conference.
- Texas Travel Alliance named Texas State Parks the 2023 Heritage Award winners Oct. 17 at the annual Texas Travel Summit. Past recipients of this award include the Dallas Cowboys, Southwest Airlines and Landry’s, Inc. The Heritage Award recognizes and honors outstanding businesses and organizations that have enriched the heritage of and made a lasting, positive imprint on the Texas travel industry. The selection is based on the organization demonstrating a history of exceptional achievement, exemplary business practices, innovative corporate culture and a commitment of excellence to their customers and their community.
- Voters overwhelmingly approved Proposition 14 during the November election, which created the Centennial Parks Conservation Fund. The $1 Billion fund is made from a portion of state budget surplus and creates a dedicated funding stream for acquiring and developing new state parks.
- Two million dollars in donations raised for park specific projects that targeted visitor services
- Two commemorative books were written in honor of the Texas State Park Centennial- “The Art of Texas State Parks” by Andrew Sansom and Linda J. Reaves, and “Texas State Parks- The First One Hundred Years 1923-2023” by George Bristol.
- A record number of people kicked off 2023 by participating in First Day Hikes. Nearly 8,000 people hiked, biked and paddled a combined 17,190 miles Jan. 1 at one of 83 participating parks. Cedar Hill State Park, about 25 minutes south of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, welcomed the most participants, with 773 visitors taking part in multiple programs throughout the day.
- The traveling art exhibit, “The Art of Texas State Parks,” kicked off in Austin at the Bullock Museum. The exhibit featured painting of more than 30 parks by some of Texas’ most celebrated artists. The exhibit then travelled to the Houston Museum of Natural Science and the Panhandle Plains Museum in Canyon, and was so successful, additional locations have booked the exhibit across the state through the end of 2024.
- The Community Outdoor Outreach Program (CO-OP) awarded a record number of grants in honor of the centennial celebration, allocating more than $2.8 million to 55 new grant-funded partnerships to help communities promote the value of recreation and conservation across Texas.
- Texas Parks & Wildlife Magazine published its biggest issue in May, sponsored by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation. With 100 pages honoring 100 years of parks, the issue featured a Texas-size helping of information about the state park system — the places and the people, the history and the future, the magic and the memories.
- The Recreational Trail Grants program allocated a record $5.14 Million to 16 projects across the state, funded from a portion of the federal gas tax generated by gasoline purchases for off-highway vehicles. The Texas Legislature has added an additional $1,000,000 per year to the program (pending passage of the state budget), which includes an additional $1,000,000 for this year from Sporting Goods Sales Tax funds. Additionally, several projects funded in previous years were completed under budget and five projects were cancelled, creating another $700,000 available for re-allocation this year.
- Texas State Parks and Minor League Baseball teams around the state teamed up for the first time this year to bring the ultimate day/night doubleheader opportunity. Visitors were able to spend a day at a state park and a night at the ballpark in partnership with five minor league teams – Corpus Christi Hooks, El Paso Chihuahuas, Frisco RoughRiders, Round Rock Express and Sugarland Space Cowboys. The teams offered a variety of incentives to those who showed their park receipts at the gates.
- In May, visitors toasted “100 s’more years” of outdoor fun at Texas State Parks’ official birthday party. Eighty state parks hosted events for all ages and skill levels focused on s’mores-themed fun, from making solar-baked s’mores to a s’mores-themed star party.