Weatherford Democrat

January 20, 2013

NOW HEAR THIS: A place to freely roam


Weatherford Democrat

— By LARRY JONES

For many years of my adult life, I was forced to live in a manner that I considered unnatural and demeaning – not the way I felt a human being should have to exist.

You ask, “What was this odious existence that I was forced to endure?” Was I incarcerated, hospitalized or held for ransom? No, I was merely living in an urban environment like over 90 percent of our population today.

As a youngster, I was fortunate to have the freedom of wide open spaces where I could hunt, fish, swim, and explore the marvelous wonders of nature and the great outdoors. Unfortunately, few kids today have this opportunity because they are “condemned” to city living. Sure, there are a few creeks, vacant lots, and park areas available, but sadly many such areas are ill-suited for children to roam freely. Gangs, drugs, sex offenders, and urban violence make it too risky to consider.

Being chased by a neighbor’s Brahma bull or bitten by a rattlesnake seems inconsequential compared to what today’s urban youth could face.

During the time I was forced to live in large metropolitan areas, I longed to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city.

While stationed in Norfolk, Va., it would take a full hour to be outside the city and its suburbs. Even then, I had few places I could go and enjoy nature’s bounty. Places I could always count on to be available were the public lands and state parks.

There I could take my family camping, fishing, and hiking. We could take in the sights, sounds, and sensations as I had done while growing up on Route One in Millsap.

I’ve always known how richly blessed I have been to have a small plot of land where I can get away from it all. The explosive growth of Parker County attests to this same mindset in our new neighbors.  Most will never have this luxury.

With so many people wishing for a place to get away from the pressures of job, traffic, and pollution, it troubles me to see all the problems our state parks seem to be having.  Just last week I read in the Fort Worth fish-wrapper that Texas Parks and Wildlife could perhaps have to close 20 parks because of inadequate funding. What a travesty during a time of even greater need for such public facilities.

Funding to support operation of Texas’ state lands was supposedly secured in 1993 when the Legislature passed a law allocating a portion of the sales tax proceeds on sporting goods to state parks. This should have solved all problems, but the Austin budget gurus were allowed final say on how these tax dollars would be divided. Not only that, in 1995 the Legislature put a spending cap for TP&W at $32 million per year. This cap was raised appreciably in 2007 but, sadly, a pittance of the sporting goods tax is ever actually allocated to the parks.

Texas has a wonderful state park system and we should demand that it be funded properly. Suffering from neglect, budget cuts, and destruction by recent wildfires, our state parks need help to provide for recreation needs of current and future generations. A little more spending on parks might result in a lot less spending on Prozac.

Larry M. Jones is a retired Navy Commander and aviator who raises cattle and hay in the Brock/Lazy Bend part of Parker County. Comments may be directed to nowhearthis@pwhome.com.