The newest state park in Texas, Palo Pinto Mountains State Park, is located in the Western Cross Timbers Ecoregion of North Central Texas. The new park offers a great diversity of topography, as well as a great variety of plants and wildlife.
The park consists of 3,331 acres of land in the southwest corner of Palo Pinto County and extending into the southeast corner of Stephens County. The nearest town to the park is the picturesque community of Strawn, which will serve as the gateway to the park.
Background of the Park
Texas Parks & Wildlife Department acquired the property for the park in October, 2011, using funds from the sale of Eagle Mountain Lake State Park in Fort Worth a few years ago. Since the sale of that property the Parks & Wildlife Department had been looking for a suitable location within easy driving distance of Fort Worth, and was fortunate that this property became available. It was acquired with assistance from the Nature Conservancy. The state purchased the property for the price of 7.14 million dollars, or about $2,142 per acre.
The property is currently completely undeveloped. This site was formerly a ranch owned by the Copeland family, and will need extensive work before it can be formally opened to the public.
History of the Area
Bigfoot Wallace may have been the first white man to see what is now Palo Pinto County when he surveyed the frontier of Texas in 1837. The original settlers in the area established cattle ranches in the mid to late 1850s. Among the first coming into the area were Charles Goodnight and Oliver Loving, who established ranches in Palo Pinto County before moving to the panhandle. Stephen Bethel Strawn (pictured at right), for whom the city is named, was also one of the early ranchers in the area.
The earliest settlers seemed to get along peaceably enough with the Indians along the Brazos River, but as more and more whites moved into the area, tensions increased and killings by each side increased until the Texas Rangers finally removed the Indians and put them on reservations in young and Throckmorton Counties, and finally moved them on across the Red River.Indian depredations into the area continued until the early 1870s.
The Texas Legislature established Palo Pinto County in 1856, with the county seat at Palo Pinto, and from early on the county had an agriculture based economy. In 1880 the Texas and Pacific Railroad came through the area, tying the agricultural production of the area to markets farther east. The city of Strawn was one of many communities that sprang up along the railroad at that time.
Discoveries of both coal and oil aided the economy of the area, and made wealthy people out of some of the land owning families there.
The park is in the Western Cross Timbers Ecoregion, a designation given to us by the United States Environmental Protection Agency. The park property is home to various types of trees, including live oak, blackjack oak, Texas oak, post oak, Texas ash, prickly ash or tickle-tongue, cedar elms, and of course mesquite and cedar and ash juniper. And of course our wonderful native pecan trees.
The timing of the spring rains dictate the mix of the beautiful wildflower crop. There are some bluebonnets, an abundance of Indian blanket, prickly poppy, coreopsis, soft golden aster, and bluebells, among others. And acres and acres of prickly pear with their beautiful yellow blossoms, and the fruit that follows soon after.
There is a good bit of little bluestem and side oats gramma, the state grass of Texas.
Wildlife observers in the park will see such animals as white tailed deer, turkey, raccoons, waterfowl, squirrels, and various small mammals and a variety of songbirds. Fish found in the park include bass, catfish, crappie, bluegill and sunfish.
As far as topography goes, the park has small areas of prairie, but most of the park is somewhat hilly, with both sandstone and limestone escarpments, steep slopes, and irregular surface features. The topography is such that there are any number of striking scenic overlooks, where you can see for miles and miles.
One of the great features of the park is Palo Pinto Creek, which runs along the northern edge of the park, and while it can be a raging torrent at times, it is a very scenic creek, with some good pools along it, good for swimming or fishing. What may become the centerpiece of the park is Tucker Lake, a 90-acre lake that is the water supply for the city of Strawn. It is a beautiful lake, set in a bowl surrounded by green hills, and is such a scenic place. The lake was built in 1937 by the WPA, the Works Progress Administration, one of the alphabet soup of agencies set up by President Franklin Roosevelt to help the country deal with and climb out of the Great Depression.
So what are we going to do with the place? Quite truthfully it is too early in the planning process to speculate. Anything that we do out there will cost money, and we all know that the economy of Texas is not what we would like for it to be. So quite honestly we do not expect any development money to come out of the 2012 and 2013 sessions of the legislature. But in the meantime, we have the property, it is protected, and it is not going away.And someday we will have the money to develop it.