TPWD Program Celebrates State Park Centennial With $2.9 Million in Grant Awards
March 1, 2023
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Community Outdoor Outreach Program Diversifies Audiences Engaged With the Outdoors
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AUSTIN – In honor of the State Park Centennial Celebration, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s (TPWD) Community Outdoor Outreach Program (CO-OP) has awarded the largest sum of grant funding in the program’s history and support a record-breaking number of organizations connecting under-represented audiences to Texas State Parks.
More than $2.8 million will create 55 new grant-funded partnerships to help communities in promote the value of recreation and conservation across Texas.
CO-OP grant recipients are as diverse as the communities in Texas they serve. They include conservation groups, nature centers, summer camps, churches, school districts and municipalities. Funding supports a range of projects: students monitoring water quality along the Rio Grande at Big Bend Ranch State Park, deaf youth engaged in nature study with the aid of ASL interpreters, communities of color hiking at Fort Davis State Park while connecting with the cultural history of Buffalo Soldiers and breast cancer survivors discovering the healing power of fly-fishing in our rivers. Each project removes barriers for Texans to connect with nature and the mission of TPWD, learning to hunt, fish, camp or paddle and beginning a lifelong path to conservation stewardship.
CO-OP was established by TPWD in 1996 to introduce under-represented audiences to environmental education, conservation and outdoor recreation programs. The program is housed under the Recreation Grants Branch in TPWD’s State Parks Division and is funded through a portion of the Sporting Goods Sales Tax collected in Texas. All grant projects are competitively funded through an annual Request for Proposals process and reviewed by an internal committee according to scoring criteria approved by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission. Grant funds may be used for supplies, travel, training, food, personnel costs and equipment for ongoing use.
Over the past 27 years, TPWD has awarded $27 million around the state to assist in this effort.
The following organizations will receive funding:
Big Bend Conservation Alliance: $19,675
Presidio River Rangers brings together 25 rural middle school students for intensive Texas Stream Team training to collect monthly water quality data at remote locations on the Rio Grande River and within Big Bend Ranch State Park. Guided river trips connect student data to aquatic health issues; TPWD staff from Fort Davis, Balmorhea and Big Bend Ranch, along with Master Naturalist volunteers, share additional conservation expertise.
City of Amarillo: $50,707
The Centered in Nature Series is a year-round, free program that introduces outdoor skills to economically disadvantaged families through neighborhood classes such as bush crafting, outdoor cooking, orienteering and guided overnight campouts. In partnership with Texas Game Wardens and Angler Education volunteers, six half-day “Hooked on Fishing Camps” will engage families in basic principles of fishing at nearby Neighborhood Fishing sites.
Maverick Boys & Girls Club of Amarillo: $50,001
The Outdoor Education program provides low-income K–12 students with summer day trips to explore geology, hiking, kayaking and fishing at Ceta Canyon, Lake Meredith and Palo Duro Canyon State Park. In partnership with local Master Gardeners, students will also research native plants, trees and rocks to design and build a “Calming Garden” that provides habitat for local species and a reflective space for all students.
Window On a Wider World: $19,800
The High Plains Experience Beyond the Classroom partners with 60 rural schools in the Texas Panhandle to provide classroom outreach and field explorations at sites such as Caprock Canyon and Palo Duro Canyon state parks, Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument and the Panhandle Groundwater Conservation District, and discussions with local Texas Game Wardens. More than 5,000 students will take part in themed lessons on water conservation, wildlife, hunting, fisheries, water safety and the cultural history of the Texas Plains.
City of Arlington — Parks and Recreation: $13,659
Growing Leaders in Outdoor Wilderness Girls (GLOW Girls) offers positive outdoor experiences for minority and low-income girls, building confidence and skills through workshops teaching outdoor cooking, nature photography, fishing and orienteering. A week-long summer camp includes extended hikes, kayaking and day trips to Cedar Hill and Mineral Wells state parks. The program culminates with a weekend camping trip at Caddo Lake State Park.
Casting for Recovery, Inc. : $25,392
The Fly-Fishing Retreat Program for Breast Cancer Survivors enhances the lives of women with breast cancer, building connections to each other and with nature. The program hosts more than 50 Texas women during four weekend retreats, providing fly-fishing instruction and practice to promote the healing benefits of outdoor activity. Staff attends TPWD Aquatic Education training to integrate conservation education and stewardship of Texas fisheries.
Central Texas Archery: $68,335
The National Archery in the Schools (NASP) Austin ISD Vertical Legacy Program creates a pipeline of archery opportunities for students in grades 5–12 at four vertical-team schools that serve under-represented youth. The program builds a progressive relationship to archery through school-based physical education units, afterschool clubs, field trips to McKinney Falls State Park and summer archery camps to continue developing skills. An Archery Ambassador mentoring program provides Instructor certification for high school students to assist younger archers.
Ecology Action of Texas: $35,958
The Montopolis Youth Nature Club seeks to grow the next generation of environmental leaders at their 14-acre Circle Nature Preserve, engaging youth within a historically marginalized neighborhood. Monthly programs integrate stewardship and community building with horseback riding, citizen science, indigenous history, native plant restoration, a group campout at McKinney Falls State Park and programs with TPWD ecologists, the Mycological Society, beekeepers and Master Naturalists.
Families in Nature: $70,000
Building Outdoor Communities hosts 11 two-night campouts at Texas State Parks, inviting partner groups such as Latino Outdoors, El Ranchito and other participants. The program covers costs for groups to visit state parks and camp with TPWD’s Texas Outdoor Family program. High school internships provide professional skills, with online training for new volunteers and a Guide Summit to support existing volunteers.
Lone Star Paralysis Foundation: $70,000
The Defying Odds through Outdoor Recreational Sports (DOORS) program eliminates barriers for individuals living with disabilities, providing adaptive recreation opportunities such as overnight campouts at state parks, weekend hunting trips, a year-round archery program, hand cycling, kayaking, fishing and shooting sports. The program also provides St. Augustine University graduate students with adaptive demonstrations and a new internship opportunity.
Phoenix Multisport, Inc.: $70,000
Texas Outdoor Adventures for Families in Recovery offers four sober camping weekends at various Texas State Parks to encourage individuals in recovery to explore new recreational activities as an alternative to addiction. With extensive training for staff and volunteer leaders, participants and their families will have opportunities to try archery, rock climbing, hiking and paddling during a free weekend experience.
Shield Ranch Foundation: $62,938
The Shield Ranch Camp El Ranchito Expansion doubles the number of low-income and minority youth served with additional summer and spring break residential camp sessions. Campers and staff will take part in TPWD’s Angler Education and Texas Aquatic Science programs, as well as rock climbing, hiking, horseback riding, and kayaking. Teens in the Conservation Corps program participate in camping at Colorado Bend State Park, kayak training, trail building and habitat restoration projects, as well as exploration of conservation careers.
Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) of Austin: $49,915
The Summer at Camp Moody program provides financial assistance to more than 300 youth in Central Texas to participate in outdoor activities such as rock climbing, fishing, hiking, kayaking and archery. Camp staff attend training to implement environmental education programs with TPWD Project WILD and earn certifications as TPWD Angler Education and Community Archery Instructors to maximize the outdoor experience for youth.
City of Brownsville, Parks and Recreation: $69,952
The Borrow My Gear Community Camping Program (CCP) partners with local community organizations, including Resaca de la Palma State Park, to promote outdoor education and campcraft skills to families, special needs teens and young adults through workshops and overnight campouts. Staff complete TPWD Project WILD curriculum trainings and Archery Instructor certification, and lead fishing, kayaking and bird-watching programs.
Ascend Outdoor Adventures: $70,000
Adventure for a Lifetime provides opportunities to learn outdoor skills such as climbing, camping, caving, canoeing, stand-up paddle boarding, kayaking, backpacking, fishing, hiking, environmental education and Leave No Trace practices. Overnight camping and daytime adventures at state parks are offered around the state, as well as weekly indoor-to-outdoor rock-climbing training and a special five-day Wilderness Adventure in the Big Bend region.
Texas A&M AgriLife Research: $68,793
The Deerfoot Nature Initiative (DNI) builds environmental literacy with racially diverse and economically disadvantaged boys through monthly home-based project boxes, virtual engagement and in-person activities. Using TPWD curriculum, youth learn about astronomy, archery, hunter and angler education, visit Huntsville State Park and experience an overnight campout. A trip to Texas A&M University explores conservation careers with TPWD personnel, faculty and professionals in natural resources.
Friends of Seminole Canyon State Park and Historic Site: $45,760
In support of the Texas State Park Centennial, the Increase Interpretation to Underserved Audiences at Seminole Canyon project employs a professional Interpreter to better serve and diversify visitorship at the park. More than 600 minority and economically disadvantaged students from San Felipe–Del Rio CISD will explore the unique cultural and natural resources of the park through the Key4 program. Community outreach for groups from around the state will be incorporated as well.
Twelve Stones For 1 Hi Lo, Inc.: $70,000
Back to Basics Camps comprise day and overnight camping trips, with a tiered format that connects minority and low-income youth and families who are new to the outdoors with trained student mentors. Through multiple offerings at state parks and other outdoor sites, novice campers are immersed in environmental education and campcraft and recreational skills such as mountain biking, archery, backpacking fishing and leadership development.
Youth Odyssey, Inc.: $70,000
Wilderness Adventure and Youth Leadership Camps seek to empower and inspire underprivileged youth, ages 10–17, with first-time outdoor experiences at state parks and natural areas across Texas. Based in schools, community centers and low-income housing, youth build confidence in the outdoors by participating in multi-day excursions to hike, climb, fish and paddle while learning healthy decision-making and leadership skills.
City of Dallas: $55,497
The Dallas State Parks Camping and Outdoor Archery Program introduces families from urban communities to state parks by providing guided weekend camping trips that demonstrate the benefits of outdoor recreation. Program staff will receive training and certification as TPWD Community Archery Instructors and implement an outdoor archery and bow-fishing program for more than 500 youth at 40 recreation centers throughout the city.
Texas Discovery Gardens: $16,017
Afterschool Community Center Environmental Education Programs collaborate with five community centers to bring free monthly environmental education programs to low-income pre-K to elementary students. Educators attend TPWD Project WILD and Growing Up WILD training to introduce environmental issues with interactive activities in local outdoor spaces.
Thomas C. Marsh Preparatory Academy/Dallas ISD: $21,420
Matador Wilderness Weekends partners with TPWD’s Texas Outdoor Family program to deliver four overnight camping trips to low-income, minority students in northwest Dallas. First-time campers make memories, learn camp set-up and safe fire building and participate in kayaking, fishing and hiking. The Wilderness and Science Afterschool Club supports additional time in the outdoors through citizen science projects at state parks to collect soil and water quality data.
Faith Family Kids, Inc.: $70,000
The EXPLORE 360 Outdoor Education Leadership & Learning Program eliminates barriers to the outdoors for students attending high-poverty, high-minority charter schools, providing immersive “Capstone” trips to state and national parks and TPWD facilities. Teachers complete Project WILD training and engage students in hands-on environmental science during day trips and overnight campouts to cultivate the next generation of diverse outdoor leaders.
The new Cultiv8Camp program connects youth from Paris and Bonham schools to the great outdoors through nature-based field trips during the school year and outdoor summer day camps, at no cost to students. Staff attend the full series of TPWD Project WILD trainings to integrate hands-on activities that teach the importance of pollinators and habitats, and host Master Naturalist volunteers, a Texas Game Warden and a wildlife biologist as special guests.
Edcouch-Elsa Independent School District: $70,000
The Outdoor Youth Adventure Project increases participation of the district’s minority and female students in NASP archery programs, and provides opportunities to camp, fish, bike, paddle and hike at Mother Neff, Resaca de la Palma, Seminole Canyon, Garner and Estero Llano Grande State Parks. Park Rangers also provide guided hikes with a focus on environmental science, conservation careers and volunteer service projects.
Boys and Girls Clubs of El Paso: $23,310
The Outdoor Adventure Academy provides Latino youth and families from high poverty communities — the Segundo Barrio, Canutillo and the far east Colonia of Montana Vista — with positive outdoor experiences at nearby Franklin Mountains and Hueco Tanks state parks and Wyler Aerial Tramway. Day and overnight excursions offer guided hikes and skill-building programs exploring outdoor cooking using regional ingredients, native plant identification, astronomy and a history of the Indigenous people within the Chihuahuan Desert region.
Centro del Obrero Fronterizo: $70,000
Exploring the Shape of Texas Water, High Desert to the Gulf! engages secondary school students in day hikes to Franklin Mountains State Park and other natural areas, camping trips to Davis Mountains, Seminole Canyon and Big Bend regions and conservation service project activities. Several workshops and trainings will be provided by conservation professionals to immerse youth in a variety of Texas aquatic and outdoor recreation topics.
Education Service Center Region 19: $32,711
Discover 915 coordinates professional development field trips for regional personnel and teachers to Hueco Tanks and Franklin Mountains state parks, with 180 professional development hours introducing them to local outdoor education opportunities. Educators create and deliver outdoor education lessons directly to their students based on these experiences.
Insights Science Discovery: $67,331
Engaging Communities Outdoors Through Environmental Education (ECO TEE) improves environmental literacy and community connection to the outdoors through discovery-based learning among the youth of El Paso. Through immersive, hands-on field trips coupled with stewardship service projects and an overnight camping trip, this program builds a strong, environmentally conscious future for the border region.
Ferris Independent School District: $70,000
Jackets in the Outdoors gives kids (who normally don’t have the opportunity) experiences in the rich natural resources of Texas and inspires them to become stewards of what makes Texas unique. This program includes weekly environmental education and conservation lessons using TPWD’s Project WILD curriculum as well as monthly field experiences at state parks and the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center.
Camp Fire First Texas: $70,000
The Texas Outdoor Education Center encourages under-served middle and high school students to pursue a deeper understanding of natural resource conservation. Day and overnight programming engages youth in Texas Aquatic Science and Project WILD activities, develops skills in archery, backpacking and outdoor recreation, and builds relationships between students and Master Naturalists, state park staff and a Texas Game Warden to explore conservation careers.
Fort Worth Connect: $52,958
Akachi Adventurers use a three-pronged approach of sport fishing, kayaking and water safety training to bring youth from two high-poverty communities together. Participants are challenged to use teamwork and conflict resolution skills through cooperative project-based learning, traveling to TPWD fish hatcheries, camping at state parks and exploring aquatic ecosystems to research and create aquatic habitats.
Granger Housing Authority: $68,500
The Sea to Sky program removes obstacles to state park visitation for low-income and disabled residents living in public housing facilities. This unique program guides residents through the details of trip planning to coordinate day trips and overnight campouts at TPWD parks and facilities such as Sea Center Texas. For most participants, the program extends the first opportunity to experience outdoor recreation, learn to fish and participate in park interpretive programs.
City of Harker Heights: $30,000
The GO Heights program provides family-friendly hikes and exploration programs for youth to enjoy local trails, learn about natural resources and engage in their surroundings. Activities include day trips to Mother Neff State Park, overnight camping at Fort Parker State Park and partnership with the local library to connect girls with natural resources, conservation and outdoor education.
Center for African American Military History, Inc., Buffalo Soldiers National Museum: $56,772
The Buffalo Soldier National Museum Inner City Youth Outdoor Exploration Program exposes youth from urban communities of color to the history and outdoor activities undertaken by the Buffalo Soldiers. Through visits to Texas State Parks and historic sites, youth learn to pitch tents, cook over fire, catch fish, ride horses, complete trail maintenance projects and build awareness of the important roles African Americans and other minorities played in Texas history.
Harris County Precinct 2: $69,998
Precinct 2 Parks & Trails Outdoor Recreation and Education Program encourages residents to engage in healthy outdoor lifestyles by offering day trips to state parks, guided campouts with the Texas Outdoor Family program and an adapted Learn to Fish program for individuals with special needs. Residents can also engage in stewardship activities by joining the Nurdle Patrol efforts at Galveston State Park and other conservation projects.
Houston Humane Society: $67,725
Keep Houston Wild! delivers hands-on conservation education programs to low-income, inner-city middle schools to increase awareness of the human impact on native wildlife. Guided nature walks at Texas State Parks teach the value of biodiversity; students participate in renovating school green spaces into native pocket prairie habitat.
The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston: $70,000
Expanding Positive Learning and Outdoor Recreation Engagement (EXPLORE) in Cameron County expands access to nature-based activities such as stargazing, guided nature walks and after-school environmental education. Activities are coordinated with community partners, including Resaca de la Palma State Park, Brownsville ISD and AARP, ensuring a long lasting and cross-generational impact within the community.
The Woods Project, Inc: $70,000
Transformational Outdoor Education and Wilderness Experiences for Underrepresented Houston Youth opens the door for low-income students to confidently access outdoor spaces and enjoy recreation activities through after-school club programs and weekend camping excursions. The Junior Leaders Program also builds capacity by developing and strengthening student voices and skills so they can serve as outdoor ambassadors in their communities.
University of Houston-Downtown: $68,749
Let’s Go Outside! Urban Explorers Girls STEAM Academy creates transformational outdoor and service-learning experiences for culturally, ethnically and linguistically diverse middle school girls who are under-represented in the field of conservation. Girls participate in adventurous overnight expeditions to Caddo Lake, Brazos Bend and Sheldon Lake state parks, led by a cadre of trained teachers who provide a deep understanding of environmental and aquatic science.
Texas A&M University-Kingsville: $51,700
Wildlife Education Teacher Training (WETT) brings together a diverse group of science educators to support interactive and real-world learning techniques for students. The five-day residential training includes TPWD Project WILD, Angler Education and Hunter Education certifications over the summer, and provides follow-up support to apply the trainings directly to classroom lessons during the school year.
Rio Grande International Study Center: $69,599
The Eco-Explorers: Environmental Science Summer Camp program engages low-income Latino students in the scientific method process to gain a deeper understanding of issues that impact Laredo’s ecological health. Hosted at Lake Casa Blanca State Park, the six-week Eco Science Day Camp uses scientific equipment to perform citizen science experiments and recreation activities such as hiking, fishing and kayaking at the park.
Empower Camps of Texas: $38,973
Empower Camps of Texas reaches out to individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities — who are seldom afforded outdoor experiences or time in nature — by hosting a series of 3-day residential camps that include traditional bonfires and campcrafts. Campers will also participate in adaptive shooting sports such as archery and riflery with a Texas Game Warden, who will teach campers safety procedures and assist them with shooting a rifle at a target for the first time.
Marbridge Foundation, Inc.: $21,225
Training & Education Camping Trips for Adults with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities removes barriers for adults with developmental disabilities to access and participate in recreation at Texas State Parks. Three overnight camping trips invite participants to experience the joy that nature brings and support social and independent living skills.
North Texas United Spinal Association: $48,658
The SOAR (Shooting Outdoor Adaptive Recreation) program provides adaptive shooting sport resources to support individuals living with spinal cord injuries as they navigate new ways to participate in outdoor recreation. Participants attend TPWD Hunter Education, combined with field training using adaptive equipment and additional shooting drills instruction. The program will also host several day hunts for program participants.
Communities In Schools of South Central Texas: $70,000
The CIS Project Success Summer Bootcamp and Alumni Outdoor Adventure Program provides a positive outdoor experience to at-risk youth and young adults. Project alumni engage in outdoor leadership development including four wilderness camping trips and a six-week bootcamp for leadership, career development and natural resource training.
Ector County Independent School District: $25,000
Travel, Learn & Camp (TLC) incorporates accessible components of outdoor recreation for young adults, ages 18–22, living with severe disabilities. Augmented reality glasses allow simulated fishing practice; videos from park staff on the TPWD YouTube channel provide ongoing training in camping, outdoor cooking, boating and fishing to prepare participants to camp overnight at Davis Mountains, Monahan Sandhills and Possum Kingdom state parks.
North Dallas Adventist Academy: $26,675
Outdoor Education 2023–24 offers a range of environmental education and camping programs for international students, most embarking on their first experience in the outdoors. On-campus training is offered to learn basic camping skills, followed by five weekend camping trips to state parks in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex and a trail cleanup at Frasier Dam Recreation Area. Freshman students are invited to explore the ecological diversity of Big Bend National Park during a six-day immersive Biology Field School.
YMCA of Greater San Antonio: $53,290
Ranch Outdoor Adventure Reach (ROAR) provides youth from communities of color and low-income families with opportunities to participate in Project WILD-based outreach programs and connect their learning to field-based activities while hiking and exploring the natural areas of YMCA’s Roberts Ranch. Mentored by Master Naturalist volunteers, students participate in the planning and creation of a new native plant pollinator garden to serve as a future outdoor classroom.
Bluestem Chapter Texas Master Naturalist: $46,886
Using Environmental Education Trunks to Promote Science Literacy and Outdoor Appreciation recruits and trains certified Master Naturalist volunteers to deliver interactive outreach programs using activities and materials from themed trunks for local fifth-grade classrooms. Students can learn about mammals, birds, soils, weather, water, geology, GPS and fossils while volunteers host Saturday programs on-site at Eisenhower State Park, Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge and a local city park.
The Boys & Girls Club of Vernon: $6,974
Ultimate Journey & Beyond challenges at-risk youth to explore environmental issues and engage in problem solving and actions to improve their community, while learning basic science concepts. Lessons are enhanced by experiential learning during small group field trips to Copper Breaks State Park and include outdoor recreation activities such as archery, outdoor cooking, fishing, hiking, nature photography and completion of the park Junior Ranger program.
GTG Outdoors: $70,000
The Find Yourself Outdoors Day Camp increases accessibility to outdoor recreation activities for under-represented youth with a six-week wilderness-themed day camp. Campers are transported to natural areas, including Mother Neff, Cleburne, Meridian, Fairfield Lake, Dinosaur Valley and Lake Whitney state parks, and introduced to a variety of outdoor recreation activities and conservation projects. Youth earn a Junior Ranger badge with the help of park rangers and host their families for a day of adventures.
Camp Tyler Foundation: $58,798
The Adventure Recreational Challenge offers three weeks of adaptive day camps that combine outdoor adventure, self-confidence and teambuilding. Collaborating with local counselors, two of the three weeks will engage mentally and emotionally challenged youth entering middle school grades. The third week will engage hearing-impaired students and deaf interpreters to create an accessible outdoor camp experience. Camp staff will attend both TPWD Angler and Archery Instructor training to learn the skills and adaptations needed to provide all campers with positive outdoor adventures.
River Bend Nature Center: $12,145
The Citizen Scientists Monitor the Wichita River trains students to use scientific equipment to monitor and collect water quality data along the Wichita River. These Citizen Scientists assess the health of aquatic ecosystems, the impact to plants and animals within the riparian zones and cultivate a greater sense of responsibility to promote water conservation and integrity.
YSLETA DEL SUR
Ysleta del Sur Pueblo: $68,591
The Cultural Resource Protection through Storytelling Using Drones, Mapping and Traditional Practices prepares 20 Indigenous youth with skills to map, inventory and protect cultural resources and petroglyphs through an intensive cultural enrichment program. Using drones to create videography, 2D and 3D renderings and Orthmosaic image stitching, youth are mentored by traditional knowledge holders to learn cultural stories and land practices in Hueco Tanks and neighboring aboriginal harvesting and foraging areas. The project culminates with presentations at the Tribal Council meeting, inviting TPWD Hueco Tanks staff to facilitate relationship building and possible future co-management practices with Ysleta del Sur Pueblo.
Visit the CO-OP program website for more information about grants and the program.