Texas Parks & Wildlife Magazine   

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From the Pen of Carter P. Smith

Have you ever wondered what the Big Tree, Lost Pines, Lost Maples, Enchanted Rock, the Ottine Swamp and the Devil's Sinkhole have in common? These natural treasures, and a whole lot more, are all found within the confines of your state park system.

Their presence in the state parks system is a testament to the will and persistence of far-sighted Texans who recognized the value of conserving these special places before they were all gone. One of those Texans was, of course, the late Lady Bird Johnson, a tireless champion of parks, open spaces and native plants. Her actions to protect Enchanted Rock inspired many others to take up the banner of conservation. Confronted with the possibility of seeing her beloved "rock" end up developed as a quarry site, she joined forces with The Nature Conservancy to ensure that the land was purchased for a state park. One of the signature natural features of the Hill Country landscape, Enchanted Rock is now enjoyed by more than 250,000 visitors each year.

You may be pleased to know that we have recently added a few more prominent natural features to your state parks system. One of those places is the Fortress Cliffs Ranch, located in the southern high plains of the Texas Panhandle. Encompassing nearly 3,000 acres of native shortgrass prairie and rugged canyon lands, the ranch includes 6 miles of prominent rim frontage and cliff face overlooking Palo Duro Canyon State Park. The ranch's namesake Fortress Cliffs represent the dramatic vista observed by hikers and campers looking up to the east from the canyon floor.

Because of its extraordinary beauty and position along the rim of the canyon, the site was coveted by some developers for potential homesites. Thanks to a partnership with the Trust for Public Land, we were able to acquire this ranch and ensure that future visitors will look up and see the canyon's walls and eastern rim just as the area's first inhabitants did. In addition, we'll give future park users a chance to scale the park's fabled sandstone walls through new hiking and horseback trails. Once on top of the rim, they will be able to gaze down upon Texas' grandest canyons.

I bet Lady Bird Johnson would be proud. So would the late Pat Neff, who as governor in the 1920s, created the Texas State Parks Board and donated the first piece of land to the state as a park in honor of his mother. At the time, the governor envisioned a parks system where people "might go and forget the anxiety and strife and vexation of life's daily grind." Sounds like pretty good advice even today.

Life's better outside. Get out and enjoy it in your state parks. Thanks for caring about Texas' wild things and wild places.

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