Texas Parks & Wildlife - 50 Years

50 Years of Making Life Better Outside

Fifty years ago the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department was created by the merger of the Texas Game and Fish Commission and the State Parks Board. Since then, our mission has been to make "life better outside" in Texas.

Our commemorative July 2013 issue of Texas Parks & Wildlife Magazine shares some of the highlights from the first 50 years and looks ahead to what the future may hold.

View the July Issue »

Watch this video to see how we're making life better outside for you.

Stories From the Outdoors

A night to remember

submitted by Emma Norton

I recently asked my best friend if we could go camping, just the two of us. I've been doing chemotherapy and have surgery scheduled on March 14th. I've been nervous that if we didn't go before that, we would never be able to experience that together.

Jennifer has been one of the best things to happen to me. I moved to Texas and met her within a month. It was a slow-going friendship just learning about each other and growing close. Over the past year, a very strong friendship formed.

Just a little over a month ago, I found out I had stage 3 ovarian cancer and Jen was the second person I told (second only to my boyfriend). Ever since, she has been my rock and I have no idea what I would do without her. Several times we have talked about going fishing or camping. Life, jobs and responsibilities kept us from going.

Finally, even though only for a night, we went out to McKinney Falls State Park. We hiked over 8 miles and it was amazing! We built a fire and sat around it talking until the wee hours of the morning like you see people doing in the movies. We were harassed by a raccoon and Jen went fishing in the rain the next morning while I took a nap to the sound of rain dripping down on our tent.

The best part of the trip was right at the end. The rain was coming down and we were packing up. A young girl was setting up her camp and realized her tent had no top to it. It was all mesh and the rain was able to get right inside. Feeling sorry for the girl and not really wanting to pack up our tent in the rain, we told her to take over our site and let the rangers know they were moving! That made me feel really good on the ride home since they were setting up for the week and it was going to rain for the next 3 days.

My amazing best friend who really needs to win the BFF-of-the-year award gave me something to look forward to the past two weeks and memories to last forever. No matter what happens come the 14th, we will always have McKinney Falls together and no one--not even her--can ever know how much that night of camping means to me.

This is how I lost weight

submitted by Chris Oswalt, Texas Outdoor Family Program

Since birth I've been overweight. While my personality and outlook on life have stayed constant, my weight has fluctuated wildly. When I hit 330 pounds in college, I decided to do something I'd never done before and become a "hiker."

What originally was planned as a trip to Big Bend turned in to a 3 month, 10,000 mile trip to 22 national parks. I had found my motivation. I changed my major in college and focused on a career in the outdoors. In one of my classes, we went camping with gear provided by Texas Parks and Wildlife's Texas Outdoor Family program. I liked that program so much that I became a volunteer.

Around the same time, I was inspired by an instructor at a spin class I was taking. Lucy had also been overweight. She led me to believe that I, too, could change.

After graduation my weight crept back up. My frustration came to a head on a cold day in February when I weighed in at 280 pounds. That night, I remember everything changing. I told myself that no matter what, I'd wake up and I'd start making a change. It was 40 degrees the next morning when I woke up at 7:30, grabbed my beagle and went for a two mile hike. Every single day for the next two months I hiked, walked, or jogged 3-6 miles. In April I got hired on as an instructor with the Texas Outdoor Family Program. This gave me the chance to maintain my weight the only way that works for me--being outdoors.

Treadmills, gyms, elliptical, music--none of that ever worked. Being in a natural element and jogging, hiking, running, and exploring is what I love. That is how I lost weight.

With Texas Outdoor Family I lead hikes, kayak, geocache and stay active. In 2012 I lost 50 pounds and am now 100 pounds lighter than I was at my heaviest. I’m able to keep up the momentum thanks to being outdoors. It's been a long road but the journey has been nothing short of amazing. I'm still the same person I've always been on the inside but faster, stronger, more capable, happier, healthier and in possession of the satisfaction of doing something that I never thought I could do.

Turkeys for the trio from Texas Tech

submitted by Steve Hall

My most memorable Texas outdoor adventure in 2012 was a turkey hunt over Easter weekend with my son, Ryan, and two of his friends from Texas Tech.

Ryan's friends were new to hunting and with only two weeks prior to the hunt, he looked online at Texas Parks and Wildlife's hunter education site and found them a field a course in Amarillo. He quickly signed them up. They first took the Internet course, and then traveled north that following weekend to complete their pre-training into this bold new world. Ryan joined them for the fun of going through the field course again, especially the shooting exercises.

We all met in Breckenridge, Texas the Friday night prior the hunt and they went down to the local Wal-Mart to get their licenses and some last-minute accessories.

The weekend turned out to be a dream hunt -- excitement levels through the roof! Guiding his roommate, Johnathan, Ryan’s turkey calls didn’t easily fool the gobblers. Stephanie and I worked a cagey old tom to within 40 yards but he wouldn't come across a ravine between our positions.

That afternoon, however, I called in a jake for Stephanie and she harvested her first animal while hunting -- a moment she will never forget. The boys were almost miffed that it was she, someone they thought would never actually hunt, who took the first bird. But over the next two days, they each took a big gobbler after hours of locating and calling. The hunts played out like a masterful chess game in nature. With their male egos in check, the boys were completely jazzed about their OUTSIDE experiences that weekend. And from a dad's perspective, I was never happier for Ryan during one of our many Texas hunting expeditions.

It was a great memory for us all but the "Turkey Trio from Texas Tech" proved true to their school's motto that wonderful weekend spent hunting -- "Guns Up!"

Songbirds of Happiness

submitted by Bruce Biermann

My father was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease many years previous, and now it had progressed to where we had to put him in a nursing home.

With mounting complications and no ability to walk, my always active dad was reduced to staying in a bed to wait out his last days. He was bored and sometimes difficult, always wanting to go outside and be active even though he could not possibly do so. The nursing home was one story and my dad's bed was very near to a window. He had always loved putting feed out at home for the songbirds and enjoying the variety of species he would attract. One day while sitting with him in the nursing home it occurred to me that I could place a couple of bird feeders on a Sheppard's hook style hanger just outside his window. What a blessing nature can provide. The songbirds immediately took to the feeder. We moved his bed so he could better see the feeders. The first couple of days the more common House Sparrows, Black-crested Titmouse, Cardinals and Chickadees arrived. But by the third day the occasional House Finch with its red breast and head, male Lesser Goldfinch with his contrasting yellow and black, and even a Summer Tanager stopped by for a bite. Such a simple thing as a few visiting songbirds brought such happiness to my father in his last days. He enjoyed spotting new species and faintly hearing their melodious songs and chatter through the slightly opened window. My father has since flown away and I hope he is singing his own beautiful song in a better place.

Flounder – witnessing history

submitted by Bryan Treadway

Texas parks and Wildlife has had years of stocking saltwater fish back into bays. A recent number was given out and it was getting close to a billion fish. To be exact it was 800 Million redfish, speckled trout and flounder.

The redfish has been the greatest success story. In the early 80s redfish were a rarity; now they’re a mainstay. Trout were to follow and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Fisheries division has helped certain bay systems that get a lot of pressure.

Now the biologists have been working with flounder and are breaking new ground. I was able to see the FIRST captive-bred flounder released into Galveston Bay. To be able to witness this was very cool. When I get older I will be able to tell my kids why we still catch flounder and about the folks who made it happen.

Camping as a way of life

submitted by Arica Shields

My family and I LOVE to camp and enjoy all that the Texas State Parks have to offer. We have been to 6 state parks in Texas in the last 3 years and are hoping to expand that list in May. We have another camping trip planned to Dinosaur Valley for my son's 5th birthday. I have also heard that Tyler State Park is beautiful, but aren't they all in their own ways?

I am a mommy, wife, photographer and geocacher. I can do all my favorite things in one place while teaching my kids to respect and love nature like I do. I can hardly wait for my kids to be old enough to join scouts and I do believe they will have a edge on some of the other kids with all of the camping experiences that we have had.

We have camped in temperatures as high as 102 degrees and as low as 20 degrees. The weather does slow us down at times but it does not stop us. We went camping at Lake Ray Roberts State Park for our 7 year wedding anniversary. Thank you for protecting a few key spots in Texas for our future generations!

Growing up on Cow Creek

submitted by Elizabeth Fontenot

My grandfather built a camp in the east Texas piney woods in 1938. We spent a lot of time at “Cow Creek” and the life lessons learned there are about pure love, life, and learning to love and respect the outdoors. How do you measure in any way the morals, values, skills that you learn by the pure essence growing up enjoying God's creation your entire lifetime?

Starting as one room with an outhouse, kerosene lanterns and water well, the camp is now affectionately called "The Cow Creek Hilton." Seventy-five years later, the camp is still an important part of each family member's life. We enjoy a beautiful white sand bar where we can build sand castles, eat watermelon, float down the creek, wade fish, drift fish, seine for minnows, set minnow traps or just bask in the sun: pure heaven here on earth.

We have been known to set a few trout lines, put out some deer feeders and harvest a duck here and there. My siblings and I have raised all of children at the camp. We now have 21 great-grandchildren who continue to enjoy the camp.

I am a proud employee of Texas Parks and Wildlife. I grew up with an appreciation and respect for nature because of the camp. I would encourage every person to take advantage of the diversity of this great state. Texas is truly an amazing place to grow up and live. Life is Better Outside!

The picture was taken inside the camp kitchen for my niece Cresta's wedding reception. We used my grandfather's minnow buckets as flower containers. I am on the left and my niece, Lisa, is on the right.


50 Years