Day Trips

The first Lone Star Legacy Weekend allows daytrippers free access to state parks.

Stephen F. Austin State Park will be one of the parks open for free this weekend.
Stephen F. Austin State Park will be one of the parks open for free this weekend. (Photo By Gerald E. McLeod)

Lone Star Legacy Weekend is the state parks system's first open house. Most of the state's facilities from Palo Duro Canyon State Park in the Panhandle to Bentsen-Rio Grande State Park near Mission will be open to visitors without the normal entrance fees.

"Our main desire for the Lone Star Legacy Weekend is for people to be able to come out at no cost to celebrate the marvelously diverse array of parks and other facilities we have in Texas," Andrew Sansom, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) executive director, said in a prepared statement. "We also hope that through this experience people will find places that are worth supporting and will make donations in any amount that seems appropriate to them."

It might be a gamble for the department to forego the income from admissions on what could be a beautiful fall weekend. TPWD hopes to attract first-time visitors and folks who haven't visited the parks in a while to discover what opportunities are available. Although they aren't specifically saying so, park managers hope that visitors taking advantage of the moratorium on fees will realize what an asset the state parks are and strengthen their support for the nature preserves, especially to their legislators.

Besides increasing awareness of the parks, the department hopes to raise money for the nonprofit Parks and Wildlife Foundation through donations at the parks during the Lone Star Legacy Weekend. Collection boxes at the more than 200 parks, fish hatcheries, some wildlife management areas, as well as Sea Center in Lake Jackson, Freshwater Fisheries Center in Athens, and the Game Warden Academy in Austin will accept gifts to the foundation.

Formed in 1991, the Parks and Wildlife Foundation is a controlled partner with TPWD much like an alumni association is with colleges and universities, says Paula Peters, spokesperson for the foundation in Dallas. The goal of the organization is to raise $10 million for the endowment fund to support the parks system. Gifts to the permanent savings account will continue to grow as more contributions come in and TPWD only uses the interest.

"Each year we select worthy projects to fund," Peters says. "The projects cover a wide range of areas from youth outreach programs to facility improvements and program expansion." The money is not spent on salaries or routine maintenance, but rather goes into long-term investment projects in most cases.

At a time when the parks department is struggling to find money to keep up with maintaining the parks, the foundation is a creative way to invest in the future of state-owned lands. Peters says that the park managers are given a fair amount of leeway in selecting where to spend the money; it is basically for new development and enhancement projects.

One of the neat aspects of the fund is that Texans can donate their money directly to specific parks or sites. For instance, if a family has been visiting a particular park for generations, they can donate to that park to help improve it for their children. Or donations can go to the non-site-specific fund which then is distributed around the site.

By establishing a stable funding source independent from tax revenues and the whims of the state Legislature, the parks have the freedom to better plan for the future. The size of the park endowment funds will depend on the needs of the parks. Needs for large parks like Bastrop, Inks Lake, and Garner are going to be different than smaller parks like the burial site of Davy Crockett's wife in Acton, Peters says.

It is important for park users to vote for the favorites with donations during the Lone Star Weekend. Every cent donated will go directly into the endowment fund. Fundraising activities are supported by corporate donations, not from the permanent savings account. "It's a way to make your money go on working for generations to come," Peters says of the donations.

To entice visitors to the parks during the free weekend, several of the sites have special events and activities planned. Although there won't be an entrance fee charged, overnight camping and other fees, such as admission on the Texas State Railroad, will still apply. The following is a partial list of planned events at Austin-area state parks. For a complete list of activities around the state, call TPWD at 800/792-1112 or visit their Web site at www.tpwd.state.tx.us.

At Stephen F. Austin State Historical Park outside of San Felipe there will be games, food, and activities for the whole family. An evening program will be held in the amphitheater. All proceeds from food and games will go to the park's endowment fund. Oct. 21, 9am-5pm, 979/885-3613.

The Kerr Wildlife Management Area at Hunt will host a retrospective look at the past 50 years of development, research, and management of the area. Oct. 21, 830/238-4483.

Fort Parker State Park outside of Mexia, in conjunction with Ducks Unlimited, will offer clinics on gun safety, duck identification, duck habitat, retriever handling, water safety, and the importance of conserving and protecting the fragile habitat. Oct. 21, 9am-5pm, 254/562-5751.

Government Canyon State Natural Area in San Antonio opens its doors for a rare occasion when it sponsors a Volksmarch through this beautiful, but generally closed to the public, park. Oct. 21-22, 7am-noon, 210/688-9570.

Washington-on-the-Brazos State Park between Brenham and Navasota will be holding a seminar on heirloom plants that costs $25. There also will be a sale of antique plants with proceeds going to the park's endowment fund as well as other special activities. Oct. 21-22, 936/878-2214.

Coming up this weekend ...

Lickskillet Days and Merchants Pumpkin Patch in Fayetteville offers Czech music, arts and crafts, food, and Halloween fun around the scenic town square, Oct. 21-22. 888/575-4553.

Texas Rose Festival in Tyler celebrates "the city of roses" annual presentation at the Rose Museum and around town, Oct. 19-22. 800/235-5712.

Coming up ...

Food & Wine Fest in Fredericksburg presents the best of Texas winemakers along with cooking seminars, tastings, and a wide range of music, Oct. 27-28. 830/997-8515.

Antiques Festival in Bellville attracts dealers and shoppers from around the Southwest for their largest show of the year at the county Fairgrounds, Oct. 28-29. 979/865-9116.

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