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August 21, 2011

Property near Strawn selected for state park

By Libby Cluett | lcluett@mineralwellsindex.com

STRAWN – What many in Strawn, Palo Pinto and adjacent counties have been waiting for – the announcement of a new state park – took a big step last week toward becoming a reality when the state’s Legislative Budget Board authorized moving forward on land in southwestern Palo Pinto County and Stephens County.

On Thursday, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Commissioners will vote on proceeding with purchasing an estimated 3,335 acres, just west of Strawn.

TPWD has been on the search for a new state park since selling its 400-acre Eagle Mountain Lake State Park in 2008.

With $9.2 million earmarked to acquire and develop a new state park in North Texas, TPWD was looking for property within a one- to two-hour trip from the Metroplex, according to Deputy Executive Director for Operations Scott Boruff in a 2010 Index interview.

This made Palo Pinto County land well-suited for a new state park. The focus now is on the rolling terrain known as the Palo Pinto Breaks, according to Ted Hollingsworth, TPWD’s senior project manager of state natural resources.

The proposed park property extends westward from Strawn and combines parts of Palo Pinto and Stephens counties.

It includes water features, meandering for a couple of miles along the North Fork of Palo Pinto Creek, according to Hollingsworth, and surrounding Strawn’s Tucker Lake.

One thing that makes this area different than the ranch land in the TPWD’s crosshairs last year is the terrain, which is marked by the Palo Pinto Mountains with elevations from 1,110 to 1,485 feet above sea level.

The area has a “wall of hills,” Hollingsworth said. “It’s pretty dramatic topography which is one of the things we’re most excited about.”

Before the funds from the sale of Eagle Mountain Lake State Park could be used for a new park, he said the state Legislature required authorization from the Legislative Budget Board. The LBB is comprised of 10 legislators, including the lieutenant governor, the speaker of the house and senators and representatives.

“This is definitely positive progress,” Hollingsworth said of the plan, which moved forward last week when the LBB authorized spending $7.6 million on the property, provided it passes due diligence.

TPWD staff will present the proposed park to commissioners at their quarterly meeting this week, “to ask their blessing to proceed with the acquisition,” said Hollingsworth. He added that commissioners will vote Thursday on acquiring the land.

If approved, the next step toward acquiring the land will be conducting “an environmental assessment to make sure we’re purchasing a clean piece of property,” said Kevin Good, special assistant to the director of state parks.

In addition to presenting the proposed land to the commission next week, TPWD staff plans to present it to citizens at a public meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Strawn School.

Park representatives will be on hand to answer any questions and to “let folks know what’s proposed and [hear] comments – good, bad or indifferent,” said Good, who will be at the Tuesday meeting.

In late 2010, it looked like the TPWD found their park site just east of Strawn on the Corrigan Ranch. But the property, which had been mined for coal from the late 1880s until about 1946, showed mining-related environmental issues during the assessment.

After TPWD passed on the Corrigan Ranch last December, the prospect of getting a new state park in the southwestern portion of Palo Pinto County – not far from Interstate 20 – led Palo Pinto realtor Janna Brimer of Texas Country Ranches to begin packaging land.

Brimer said she had a 1,400-acre piece of property near Strawn listed and contacted her colleague, realtor Cynthia Inman, who represented the buyer, the Nature Conservancy.

“There aren’t many women doing what I do,” said Brimer of selling ranch land. “When I find another woman doing this, we pal up.”

“They needed more land,” she said. “Their goal was 3,500 acres. So I called neighbors and found cooperative owners. I came back in January with a larger tract.”

Brimer packaged three tracts of land, including 1,935 acres of Copeland Ranch property, 1,358 acres of Parson Family property and 42.1 acres of land owned by Julio Perez.

There were some legal issues to sort out on the tracts and, in April and May, Brimer said they started making contracts to secure the tracts.

“It was just a matter of getting it officially approved,” she said of seeking the required LBB approval.

But by then, legislators were in the midst of settling the state’s budget woes. The LBB said they needed to get through the session before they could review the proposed park package, Brimer explained. Another delay came when Gov. Rick Perry called a special session. Afterwards, she said, legislators needed time to unwind.

“That is such an intense time at the end of a session. They have so many issues flying at them,” said Brimer, who is no stranger to state government as the spouse of former Texas Sen. Kim Brimer. “I know the intensity of that period of time.”

Earlier last week, the LBB met and approved purchasing the property.

“This is exciting for the city of Strawn, for the whole Palo Pinto County and for Ranger,” said Brimer. “This will effect, in a positive way, the whole economy.”

She noted the state already has some infrastructure in Farm to Market Road 2372, which leads to Tucker Lake and the proposed park land.

Features include “two creeks running through it,” she said of Russell and Palo Pinto creeks and “at least 10 hilltops.”

Brimer said the land has mountain-top views, valleys, creek bottoms and is mostly wooded. She has seen deer, turkey and hogs while visiting the land.

“It will be a fun park and offer jobs in the area,” she said as she awaited to meet a surveyor. “There’s one job already.”

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