Prickly pear cacti and ash juniper trees plant their roots in red-tinged soil. Purple and white flowers speckle the greenery. The 5,000 acres of rolling hills bring to mind central Texas, but the developing Palo Pinto Mountain State Park is instead about an hour west of Fort Worth.
If the park were a town, James Adams would be the city manager tasked with getting the land ready for its owners: The people of Texas, who in 2023 are expected to have access to the state’s first new state park in more than two decades.
“There is so much that goes into making a park,” the park superintendent said. “So much more than I could have ever imagined getting into this position.”
So it’s no surprise outdoors enthusiasts are eager for the opening of Palo Pinto Mountains State Park near Strawn — described as the Metroplex’s playground.
Denise and Cecil Aparicio of Mineral Wells visit Mineral Wells State Park often during the week and camp there a few times each year.
As they sat outside their trailer on a breezy October Friday afternoon, Denise Aparicio looked forward to the day she could do the same several miles west.
“It’s going to be gorgeous,” she said.
‘A much wilder place’
Driving around the 4,871-acre park in his Suburban, a Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife crest on its side, Adams is clearly proud of the park’s progress.
With an encyclopedia-like knowledge of the land’s greenery and history, he periodically points out some of his favorite features — the side of a cliff where stalagmites the size of rice grains have formed and a particularly picturesque scene of cascading hills he’s dubbed the “Y’all come back view.”
He points out spots that will one day be home to trails, a playscape or shower buildings.
Some areas even he hasn’t yet explored.
Campers will have their choice from about 60 campsites, from primitive to RV.
Workers are orchestrating trails for hikers, bikers and horseback riders. Tucker Lake will offer swimming and boating — though motor boats won’t be permitted.
The park is designed to provide recreational opportunities while being “light on the land,” Adams said.
Texas has more than 80 state parks. Palo Pinto Mountains State Park will join those in close proximity to North Texans. Lake Mineral Wells State Park is west of Fort Worth and Ray Roberts State Park is north near Aubrey. Travel south or southwest and you’ll hit Cleburne State Park and Dinosaur Valley State Park.
But North Texas visitors to Palo Pinto Mountains State Park will notice a stark contrast to the topography they’re used to in the Metroplex, Adams said.
“Once you get out past Weatherford, you really start seeing these big, beautiful rolling hills,” he said. “You start feeling like you’re in a much wilder place when you get out here, something that is reminiscent of the Hill Country but in North Texas.”
Texas State Parks
Locations of Texas State Parks. Tap the markers for more information about the parks, including website links. Data is from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
A park years in the making
There’s a lot that goes into making a state park: the acquisition of land, environmental surveys, public comment, the crafting of trails and campsites.
It all takes time and money. The latter has been a roadblock.
The $9.2 million sale of 400 acres of state land next to Eagle Mountain Lake in 2008 served as the park’s initial funds. In the years since, the Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife asked the state Legislature for millions more for its development.
Lawmakers earmarked $12.5 million during the 2019 session, and the remaining $9 million is being raised by the nonprofit Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation. So far, $7 million has been raised, said Anne Brown, the Palo Pinto Mountains State Park project lead for the foundation.
“A lot of the operating dollars for state parks goes into things that need to be fixed at current state parks that have 10 year backlogs, plus,” Brown said. “So when you go to build a new park, obviously, those take longer.”
‘Inundated with people’
Kirk Parrish and Stacey Lawson of Richardson booked their Mineral Wells camping spot about three months in advance. As they sat by a fire, fully set picnic tables and a massive blue and white tent nearby, they recalled how they recently tried to get a spot for spring break, but the park was already booked.
Lawson has figured out that it’s a good idea to try and get a site about five months out, when reservations open.
“There’s some people that literally, they’re waiting for the clock to tick and then they’re immediately on booking,” Parrish said.
“Texans love their state parks,” Lawson chimed in.
State parks are inundated with people.
“That’s a great problem to have,” Adams said. “The issue is though, anybody who’s tried to reserve a campsite on a weekend and especially on a nearby weekend, it’s very difficult to do. We’re so popular. There’s so many people that want to come out and experience the outdoors. And as exciting as that is, it makes it difficult to get everybody out. We need more campsites, more day use areas and more parks for people to be able to experience that.”
Palo Pinto Mountains State Park could eventually see 75,000 visitors each year.
“That’s 75,000 people that need to get food and gas and get their tires fixed, 75,000 people that are going to go down Main Street, stop at a shop,” Adams said. “So the economic impact to the city of Strawn is going to be huge.”
April Klendworth of Fort Worth enjoys the escapism of camping — getting herself and her family out of the big city and into nature. It’s peaceful, she said.
“Any time that they can take land and use it to be a continued open space, rather than building more homes — because I think that’s something that Texas is experiencing right now is the urban sprawl. ... I think it’s huge to have space that’s going to stay natural,” she said.
New North Texas state park
Palo Pinto Mountains State Park sits on nearly 5,000 acres of former ranch land west of Fort Worth. Tap the park for more information.