Woods, waters and wildlife

Bathing in brown waters

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I attended a board meeting in a state park a while back during a time of limited funds in the state treasury. I loved the cabin I occupied. It was rustic and enhanced the experience of being in the woods and off the beaten path. Reluctantly, I got out of bed that morning to get ready for the meeting, although preferring instead to lie abed longer and listen to the countless birds outside letting the world know it was spring and they were up.

But I was, too. Stumbling into the bathroom, I turned on the shower to let hot water travel through the pipes from wherever it comes from. Venturing into the shower stall, the hot water chased the early morning chill. As I washed off the soap, I looked down. I wish now I hadn’t. The soap residue had bubbled up in a pool of dull brown water that I was standing in. It, too, had bubbled up from somewhere below.

That rudely ended my shower. I scrubbed my ankles with a towel and doused them with aftershave – the only available alcohol. I hoped my typhoid inoculation was current. When I reported the situation to park staff, the ranger nodded knowingly and apologized for the episode. It seemed he already knew of this and other unresolved and critical maintenance needs.

I haven’t heard of similar hybrid-drain-pipe problems recently, but I have heard continuing complaints of park maintenance issues and lack of adequate funds to correct them. That was all supposed to have been rectified years ago when a portion of the state sales tax on recreational sporting goods was dedicated to state parks. That sounded good.

Then, one legislation session, the usual biennial budget harangue saw legislators frantically scrambling to pass the appropriations bill before the end of the 140-day session to avoid the governor calling a special session to complete their duty. One solution they came up with was to take a portion of the heretofore dedicated sporting goods tax to finance other state needs.

Never mind a state park system limping along to rectify maintenance issues! Some state park employees even declined to consume the park’s public drinking water. Many repairs were critical. All the while, park usage was increasing in direct proportion to the state’s ever-expanding population. But potholes had to be filled and demands for other social services were popular feel-good causes the legislators couldn’t resist. Raids upon the dedicated fund became a way of legislative life.

Many people saw the shell game and its effect on state parks. Texas’ rising population screamed for more parks. Park goers are often turned away when parks reach maximum occupancy. More park space was needed. Despite voices raised in protest, legislative raids continued. Until now.

A proposed Constitutional Amendment – SJR 24, recently filed by Sen. Lois Kolkhorst – will require the dedicated fund go to park maintenance and expansion. If you agree, you might let your state legislators know.

So Texans won’t have to bathe in brown water!

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