AUSTIN, Texas - As urban sprawl continues to expand into natural areas throughout the state, protecting the great outdoors is important to many Texans.
This November, voters will have a chance to consider a proposition that claims to do just that.
Joseph Fitzsimmons, co-founder of the Texas Coalition for State Parks, joins FOX 7 Austin's Rebecca Thomas to discuss Prop 14, which would create the Centennial Parks Conservation Fund.
REBECCA THOMAS: Of course. Joseph, tell us about the Centennial Parks Conservation Fund. And what do people need to know before heading to the polls?
JOSEPH FITZSIMMONS: Well, first of all, the Centennial Park Conservation Fund will be approved by the voters on November 7th. So it's important for everyone interested in open spaces and state parks to have that on their calendar, because oftentimes the official referendums have very low turnout. So it's really important for everyone interested in open space and outdoor recreation to concentrate on that date and vote yes on Prop 14. Now, what is Prop 14, Prop 14 is a dedication of $1 billion exclusively for the identification, acquisition, development and opening of new state parks. I was involved in Prop 5 back in 2019 and so people aren't confused, we aren't doing the same thing twice. That was the dedication of the sporting goods sales tax to the Park Fund to help us with the $800 million backlog we had in repair and maintenance. So what's really important to understand about Prop 14 is this is for new parks to keep up with the incredible population growth and as you point out, urban development of Texas.
REBECCA THOMAS: How will the money be used? Will the investment be concentrated or will it be spread throughout the state and not just the high population areas?
JOSEPH FITZSIMMONS: No, it'll, as all the state parks have been, really concentrate on all the different nine ecoregions of the state. But I can tell you in my time as chairman of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission, the Parks Department does an excellent job of identifying properties that will not only meet the need of people close into urban areas, but also more of an outdoor wilderness experience in some of the more remote areas of the state. But the fact is what really matters is for people to be able to access these parks and living in an urban state as we do, those within several hours of the major urban areas will certainly be a high priority.
REBECCA THOMAS: The state's population is growing rapidly. Many cities are struggling to keep up. What kind of impact is that having on recreational resources?
JOSEPH FITZSIMMONS: Well, that's a very good point. And it was in the Prop 5 work that we did, the dedication of the sporting goods sales tax, where we did concentrate a good bit of funding on the local parks grant program. The local parks grant program is a matching program through the department and the counties and the cities. So those are very important. And Parks and Wildlife has always worked very closely to seamlessly link those local parks with our state parks. But Prop 14 is exclusively about identifying, acquiring, developing, and most importantly, opening new state parks.
REBECCA THOMAS: All right, we are out of time. But Joseph Fitzsimmons with the Texas Coalition for State Parks, thank you for sharing your time and perspective with us tonight.
JOSEPH FITZSIMMONS: Well, thank you for your interest.