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Crockett County Motorized Trail Grant Approved
AUSTIN, Texas – The Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission on Jan. 26 approved a $1,359,500 grant to the Texas Motorized Trails Coalition, a not for profit organization, to acquire 3,323 acres in Crockett County for the purpose of developing a managed off-highway vehicle recreation area.
After hearing public testimony for and against the grant proposal, the commission voted to approve land acquisition for the project, with the understanding that before the site is open to the public the state agency staff would come back to the commission for approval of a plan to develop and operate the motor vehicle park.
The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department grants staff committed to work with all parties involved to plan site development to try to accommodate concerns of neighboring landowners. The property is being purchased from a willing seller. Local officials and business owners — including the local chamber of commerce — from nearby Ozona also are supportive. Several nearby property owners have voiced strong opposition.
“It’s important to understand that the Texas Motorized Trails Coalition won’t just buy this property and open the gate in a free-for-all,” said Walt Dabney, director of the TPWD State Parks Division, which includes the department’s Recreational Grants Branch. “They have strict rules of conduct. You have to stay on designated trails, and if your conduct is unacceptable, you’re out of there. They pride themselves on doing a good job of managing a site, and they’ve demonstrated that with Barnwell Mountain.”
The Texas Motorized Trails Coalition has operated the 1,800-acre Barnwell Mountain Recreation Area near Gilmer in Upshur County in Northeast Texas since 2000. Facilities include showers, restrooms, an air station, pavilion, office and campsites with R/V hookups and electricity.
“The Texas Motorized Trails Coalition has a safe and successful operation near Gilmer,” said John Parker, TPW commissioner from Lufkin. “The local community there loves it, because it brings in a ton of business.”
Coalition secretary and research chemist Dick Stuart told commissioners about preliminary results of a university research study contracted by the coalition. He said this shows that visitors to the Barnwell Mountain area in a six month period spent an average of about $20,000 per weekend in Upshur County and surrounding communities on lodging, food, supplies and other expenses. He said this is estimated to generate more than $1 million per year in out-of-county visitor spending.
The department held two public meetings in Ozona in September and October last year to get community input on the proposed Crockett County project and has also done an initial natural and cultural resource survey. The grants program staff presented the proposal to the TPW Commission on Nov. 8. Because of landowner concerns expressed then, commissioners directed the staff to continue to study the proposal and seek additional public comment.
Concerns about the project include the possibility of increased traffic, noise pollution, grass fires and erosion. The TPWD staff believes these concerns can be addressed by controlling site development to make sure there are adequate visual and noise buffer zones along the perimeter, plus good fences to control traffic and prevent trespass onto neighboring land.
The site includes a canyon approximately 300 feet below the main landscape level, and planners believe noise can be minimized if most activity takes place down in the canyon. The trails coalition said the property has two water wells with 20,000-gallon storage, and the group intends to create a fire substation on site. Regarding erosion, the site contains no running streams or springs. The project calls for silt retention structures to minimize off-site erosion run-off during storms.
The site was chosen because of its remoteness, good paved access and low likelihood to impact natural or cultural resources. All necessary natural and cultural resource clearances and permits would be obtained prior to construction.
Two recently enacted state laws are driving the creation of new off-highway vehicle recreation areas in Texas.
The 78th Texas Legislature enacted Senate Bill 155 several years ago, which closed all navigable stream beds in Texas, except for some parts of the Canadian and Red Rivers, to motorized recreational vehicles. That law also directed TPWD to “facilitate development of sites for motor vehicle recreation other than protected freshwater areas.”
The more recent 79th Texas Legislature last year enacted Senate Bill 1311, which directed TPWD to establish and maintain a public system of trails and other recreational areas for use by off-highway vehicles.
The National Recreational Trails Fund (NRTF) is the funding source for the Crockett County grant. This 80-20 matching grant program requires grant recipients to come up with an additional amount equal to 20 percent of the federal grant.
These funds come from the federal tax generated by gasoline purchases for off-road recreational vehicles, such as off-road motorcycles and all-terrain vehicles. The purpose is to create and maintain motorized and non-motorized recreational trails.
A federal requirement is that 30 percent of the funds be spent on motorized recreational trail projects, 30 percent on non-motorized trail projects, with the remaining 40 percent discretionary.
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