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April 29, 2010

Palo Duro Canyon State Park Honoring History While Opening Doors

CANYON — Spectacular, rugged and starkly beautiful, Palo Duro Canyon State Park has always been a worthy Texas bragging point. To make sure everyone has an opportunity to enjoy the canyon’s scenic splendor, early this summer Texas Parks and Wildlife begins making more of this 76-year-old park current with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Construction is expected to be completed in spring 2011.

"There are accessibility issues that have to be conquered to give everybody the same access," says Park Superintendent Randy Ferris.

Thanks to bond funding authorized by the Texas Legislature and approved by statewide voters, Texas Parks and Wildlife is repairing and renovating several Palo Duro Canyon facilities to make them ADA compliant.

At the same time, TPWD is protecting the historical integrity of park structures. At the park headquarters, that is a particular challenge because it was built by the legendary Civilian Conservation Corps. Six CCC companies labored from 1933 to 1937 to build the park. Their work is carefully protected by the Texas Historical Commission and other entities.

"The main part of the building is a CCC-era structure," says project manager Ronny Gallagher. "There are two restrooms in the headquarters that are extremely small but are in that older, historic area."

The building also has a newer section, built in the CCC style but only about 40 years old. That section will be renovated so people in wheelchairs can easily access the building. The headquarters service counter also will be made accessible. But the historic area’s small restrooms defied being altered without destroying their original character.

"So we are taking another building that is adjacent, a CCC building that was used to house a water tank," Gallagher says. That structure had the space to alter it without destroying its historic nature. "We are going to modify that tank and put restrooms inside there."

The more than $600,000 in improvements at Palo Duro Canyon are part of a long list of major Texas State Parks rejuvenation projects underway this year, all aimed at keeping the parks fun, safe and customer friendly. Texas State Parks general obligation bonds have been sold to fund more than $44 million in repairs and renovations to park cabins, bathrooms, electrical and water systems, and other state park infrastructure. Along with fixing up more than 40 state parks, the bonds provide an additional $25 million to dry berth the Battleship Texas.

Another ADA restroom update will be done in Palo Duro Canyon’s Chinaberry Day Use Area. The walls of that non-CCC structure will be moved outward several feet to provide adequate wheelchair turnaround room inside, and the doors will be widened. Chinaberry also gets ADA-compliant pathways from the parking area to picnic pads and the restroom.

More upgrades will be made at the Sagebrush Camp Area, where three campsites will be brought up to ADA compliance.

"We are going to be doing some elevation work, some grading, adjusting the picnic pad to make sure it’s the right size and allow easy access from the camper to the pad," Gallagher says. "And we will put an ADA walkway between those campsites to the restrooms."

Palo Duro Canyon is indisputably one of Texas’ most spectacular state parks. It is often called the "Grand Canyon of Texas," although the experience, for many guests, is more intimate than visiting the national icon. The Grand Canyon is so vast, deep and challenging that most visitors see it only from the rim. A visit to Palo Duro Canyon State Park means driving — using a road originally built more than 70 years ago by the CCC — down the canyon wall and right into the heart of the canyon.

Ferris says it is the amazing contrast of the canyon with the surrounding landscape that most enthralls people. "You’ve driven across the Panhandle’s flat farmland and ranch land. Then all of a sudden you’ve got the second largest canyon system in the United States."

The park features numerous examples of CCC handicraft. The visitor’s center, originally the Coronado Lodge, was one of the first structures. Others, Ferris says, include the Rim Cabins and the Cow Camp Cabins. The latter were built as open air shelters and later modified into cabins using the CCC design. The CCC boys also constructed a number of the park’s bridges and picnic areas.

The almost 30,000-acre park also boasts great geologic and military history. It took 250 million years of water erosion to carve out the 120-mile long, 800 feet-deep canyon (not all in the park). That story is revealed by the layers of rock exposed as the canyon deepened. The presence of iron causes the distinctive rust red of the Quartermaster formation, the lowest and oldest layer seen in most areas of the park.

One wonders if all this beauty was appreciated by the combatants — soldiers and Indians — in the month-long Red River Wars of 1874, which essentially ended the lifestyle of Plains Indians. The final battle of that war took place in and around the canyon, climaxing with the capture and destruction of the food and horses of the remaining Native American resistance.

Palo Duro Canyon State Park attracted about 277,000 visitors last year with its potent combination of scenery, camping, hiking, cabins, equestrian rentals and great diversity of plants and wildlife. It is located in the Texas Panhandle, 14 miles east of Canyon and 30 miles south of Amarillo.

Watch the official Palo Duro Canyon State Park video on YouTube:

For more information, call the park at 806/488-2227, or visit the official website:


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