• Palo Pinto Mountains State Park set for 2023 opening
  • Palo Pinto Mountains State Park set for 2023 opening

Palo Pinto Mountains State Park set for 2023 opening

New state park to be Texas’ first in 20 years

Stephens County will soon be partially home to a new state park, the first in Texas in 20 years.

Since 2011, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has been at work to open a new state park for the first time in two decades. After plans fell apart for a park outside Fort Worth, work began on opening a park on former ranch land 75 miles west of Fort Worth. That area of land, taking up 4,871 acres, is now Palo Pinto Mountains State Park.

Mineral Wells native James Adams has been tasked as the park’s first superintendent. It is a job that Adams considers a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

TPWD originally owned 400 acres on Eagle Mountain Lake in northwest Tarrant County. A lack of room for expansion led to the eventual sale of the property to the local water district with the money from the sale earmarked for land purchase towards a new state park. The new park was required to be within 90 miles of downtown Fort Worth.

“The first purchase was 3,333 acres,” Adams said. “Since then we’ve acquired a little bit here, a little bit there, and now we’re up to 4,871 acres, (...) 91 acres of that is Tucker Lake, which is just stuck right in the middle.”

The park is split nearly equal in Palo Pinto and Stephens Counties and is funded by a collective of public and private entities. Adams said $12.5 million is from appropriations from the state legislature for parks and wildlife. The Texas Department of Transportation is contributing $12-13 million for roads in the park. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation, through private donations, is adding $9-10 million. The park is planned to open in late 2023.

“We had this beautiful chunk of land and then we had to figure out what to do with that. We know we want to build a park. But what’s that look like, right? Every one of them (in the) state looks different,” the park superintendent said. “So what is this supposed to look like? When I say we, I’m talking about park planners, biologists, archaeologists, architects, engineers, all kinds of folks putting their heads together on this.”

TPWD’s State Parks and Infrastructure divisions along with a contracted design team worked early this year to design and layout campsites for the park. According to a post by Adams on the park’s official website, the backgrounds of the team included design, construction, natural resources, park operations and management.

Each member worked to highlight the natural character of the Palo Pinto Mountains and provide future visitors with memorable experiences. Over two days, the team planned out 60 campsites that includes equestrian, RV and tent sites with water and electricity. Primitive campsites that involve a two-mile hike were included in the plan.

The campsites, along with a canoe and kayak launch will be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The canoe and kayak launch will have rollers and handlebars with a stable bench to allow for loading from a wheelchair.

“If you have any sort of lower limb disabilities, (you can) get in it and you just pull yourself along these rails off into the water,” Adams said. “You come back and you paddle back up to it (and) slide right back up. It’s a really neat way to allow access to more folks.”

Adams said no gas motors will be allowed on Tucker Lake. Trolling motors will be allowed.

“It’s a beautiful lake, perfect for paddling,” Adams added. “There was talk, first of just allowing no motors, but we really want to stick with being inclusive to everyone, no matter their abilities and a lot of folks with upper limb disabilities just can’t paddle. (Using) a trolling or electric motor on something (...) we still won’t get the noise and still won’t have the wakes (...) The lake is certainly the centerpiece, but its immediate real attraction is the topography, which is very similar to what we have out here in Graham and around (Possum Kingdom Lake).”

The lake is supported by a dam on Russell Creek.

Adams said the park plans to open with 16-19 miles of multi-use trails that will allow hiking, biking and equestrian use. The conceptual plan calls for an expansion to 32 miles and Adams believes it could grow beyond 32 miles.

Other accommodations that the park will provide include electric vehicle charging stations and all park buildings will be equipped with Wi-Fi technology. The park will be night sky compliant, which means lights will only be on when needed, light the areas needed, minimize blue light emissions and eliminate upward-directed light. This is all geared toward reducing light pollution in the night sky.

“So just the ADA things that I’m talking about with the boat launches and access issues, just that by itself is a huge advancement,” Adams said. “But there will be some technological advances also. We’ll have some EV charging, we’ll have a lot of solar grid-connected solar on things. Wastewater treatment stuff that’s a little more advanced, more efficient buildings (...) the International Dark Sky Association has sort of best practices and guidelines. So we’ll stick to those to keep a good night sky for reduced light pollution, that kind of thing. Lots of stuff from lessons learned.”

Park officials have not determined what the park admission price will be when the park opens to the public in late 2023. Adams said most state parks in Texas average around $4-5 for admission.

“What typically happens is if somebody goes (...) or even goes camping twice, really, (they) buy a park pass for 70 bucks. It covers entrance fees and all the parks in the state. So for you and up to 15 people in the same vehicle,” Adams said. “ I don’t have (an opening) date. So next year, probably later in the year. We’ve still got a lot to do. We had the same cost and supply chain problems that everybody’s run into. So it certainly slowed us down. But we’re still saying 2023, but not by spring break.”

Breckenridge American

114 East Elm Street

PO Box 871

Breckenridge, Texas 76424

Phone: (254) 559-5412
Fax: (940) 228-0589