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NPCA Report Looks At Creating A National Recreation Area Along the Texas Coast Near Houston

A national recreation area proposed for the Texas Gulf Coast would bring National Park System branding to an area of Texas rich with outdoor activities. Photo by Bob Howen.

Texas, which already features a national seashore, would benefit greatly in terms of economics and storm protection if a national recreation area were created along the Gulf of Mexico near Houston, according to a National Parks Conservation Association report.

The envisioned Lone Star Coastal National Recreation Area could grow within a decade to lure 1.5 million visitors a year, who in turn would generate $192 million in sales, and support 5,260 jobs, according to the report, Opportunity Knocks, released last week.

“Lone Star Coastal National Recreation Area has the potential to be a game-changer for the upper Texas Gulf Coast – both economically and through the preservation of this unique ecosystem for flood protection and enjoyment," said Suzanne Dixon, the Texas regional director for NPCA. "While the economic benefits could be substantial, they are really icing on the cake, as the natural and cultural resources of this region absolutely deserve additional protections. The National Parks Conservation Association supports further exploration of a national recreation area in the region and we look forward to an ongoing conversation with the local community and governing agencies.”

According to the report, the NRA would provide a buffer along the Texas Gulf from hurricanes, such as Ike, which cut through the region in 2008, the report notes.

"Yet portions of the region fared better (from the hurricane), showing that undeveloped lands along the coast serve as a natural buffer for a tremendous amount of storm surge tide. This natural landscape, from sea level to as much as 15 feet elevation, is an integral part of a long-term, nonstructural flood mitigation system," states the report. "In other words, the water-storage capacity of these low-lying areas can help reduce flooding and property damage inland."

While the areas envisioned for the NRA, which as proposed would stretch from across four counties -- Matagorda, Brazoira, Galveston and Chambers, and encompass the cities of Galveston and Freeport -- already boast a tourism industry, the NRA model would link those existing industries, offer a nationally recognized branding, improve quality of life for residents, and leverage dollars from the federal government, non-profit organizations, and corporations, the report suggests.

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The proposed NRA would be rich with wildlife. Photo of Roseate spoonbill by Bob Howen.

“The coordination and stature of a national recreation area could help Galveston County leverage its resources as we implement our new Parks, Recreation, Open Space and Conservation/Natural Resources Master Plan," Dennis J. Harris, director of the county's parks and senior services program, said in the report. "This plan focuses on nature-based recreation and open space. Participating in a national recreation area could help us attract funding and get some things accomplished at Fort Travis Seashore Historic Park and other nature and historical parks that we have identified as priorities.”

In Freeport, city manager Jeff Pynes spoke of the added tourism potential an NRA would create.

"A lot of people come to Freeport and this area because of our fantastic outdoor recreation. But while they are here camping, or fishing, or bird-watching, many of them take time to visit our historical sites and museums," said Mr. Pynes. "We’ve found that nature is an important draw for opening people’s eyes to history.”

Plus, while lands protected under an NRA would boost the local economy by attracting visitors for the outdoor activities made possible, it also would prevent these lands from being developed and thus contribute to a buffer against storms.

"The cost savings could be dramatic, both in diminished property damage and in avoided costs of installing massive flood-control structrues to replace these natural buffers," the report notes.

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The area envisioned for the Lone Star Coastal NRA already is popular with outdoors lovers. Photo by Bob Howen.

But before a Lone Star Coastal NRA can become a reality, a member of Congress needs to introduce legislation directing the National Park Service to evaluate the potential for such an NRA. If the Park Service deems the area eligible, then legislation creating the NRA would have to pass Congress.

“Creating and developing a national recreation area along the upper Texas Gulf coast would foster economic activity and growth, and bring national and international recognition to our tremendous natural and cultural resources," said James A. Baker III, the honorary chair of the Lone Star Coastal National Recreation Area Steering Committee. "This would be a boon not just to the coastal counties, but to the Houston-Galveston region as a whole.

“For these and other reasons, I support this worthwhile effort and encourage others to join me.”


It sounds like a reasonable proposal.  Preserving the natural buffer against hurricanes and flooding provides a strong economic argument for the NRA in addition to any tourism dollars it could bring.  In the current political and economic climate, though, I wonder if there would be enough political will to create a new park here, not to mention enough money for necessary land acquisition.
I'm also thinking if the primary idea is to preserve the land in its natural state, then maybe it should be a National Preserve or Reserve, not a Recreation Area.  And I really hope they come up with a better name than the generic "Lone Star Coastal National Recreation Area!" 

A worthwhile project and would support  minimal developement  but urge that
it be made a recreation area for the enjoyment of the public instead of
a preserve/reserve where the benefit resides in a few.

I would also urge the State of Texas to go it alone instead of trusting the NPS.  Good intentions and promises for economic benefit may fall by the wayside as witnessed by what has happened at Cape Hatteras National Seashore.

There is no question that Cape Hatteras remains an enormous economic engine for Dare County.  That long-overdue ORV restrictions are finally in place and may impact a few surf fishermen and related businesses should not be extrapolated to the whole economy.  An NPS-run area makes a whole lot of sense.  

Good advice, Mr. McCants. Anonymous, You are everywhere.
Ron (obxguys)

As we've found out in NC,
you cannot have a National Recreation Area and a National Seashore together.
 "Since 1962, Cape Hatteras
has been referred to as “national seashore” in all Congressional legislation
and “national seashore” has been the standard nomenclature for this type of

The NPS claims they defined a "national seashore" as a recreational area in a 1937 brochure, and the recreational purposes of the park were somehow established by Congress (?) with a letter from the Acting Secretary of the Interior to a House Committee, and they have dropped “Recreation Area” from the official name (as established by Congress). 

I’m sure many Texans and neighboring areas would love the recreation provided by the area, but the area doesn’t fit in with the other National Recreation Areas – which are all inland (with the  exception of Boston Harbor Islands).  Most likely, the NPS would designate it a National Seashore.  Most people (including the NPS) think “so what?” but there is a difference: Listen to Mr. McCants.  

The two most heavily-visited National Recreation Areas -- Gateway National Recreation Area (NY/NJ) and Golden Gate National Recreation Area (CA) -- are situated on the Atlantic Coast and the Pacific Coast, respectively.

The area in question is a very rich wetland area that is viable for the ecosystem of the Gulf of Mexico. There are some areas included here that have done more damage than good for the area with their major concerns of making money. Example being the City of Freeport, which has hastened beach erosion by continually removing the seaweed that washes on shore. The seaweed, though not a pretty site, replenishes the beaches, which have eroded at a quicker rate since the city began seaweed removal.
When speaking of the history of the area, Freeport has done very little to preserve the local area's history. The major local history can be traced to Quintana or Surfside or other areas surrounding Freeport. Therefore, as you state, a recreation area may not be the right term for proper preservation of the local area. It may spur more damage than good if local municipalities place monetary economic gains ahead of environmental preservation. 

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