Despite some reservations, support grows for developing national recreation area
Aplan underway since 2011 to designate parts of Galveston, Chambers and Brazoria counties as the Lone Star Coastal National Recreation Area has gained the support of District 14 U.S. Rep. Randy Weber as well as the Galveston Park Board of Trustees and Galveston City Council.
“I think it would be wonderful recognition for this entire area,” said Galveston City Councilman Craig Brown, formerly of the recreation area steering committee. “It would give credibility to tourism here and everything having to do with the environment and natural resources here, bringing attention from around the country.”
A discussion that started in 2011 at the behest of former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker, of Houston, the recreation area plan envisions a voluntary partnership among local, state and federal governments as well as non-governmental organizations and private property owners who choose to participate in national recreation area designation.
That means ownership of all the properties involved would not necessarily fall to the federal government, but would function as a nationally designated recreation area, sharing a common purpose.
Discussions aimed at cultivating buy-in both from locals and from the federal government are still ongoing, committee member and board director of the Lone Star Coastal Alliance, Elizabeth Winston Jones said.
“Where we are in the process and where we have been for some time is putting a national park unit in the middle of the nation’s largest petrochemical complex and ensuring it’s a win-win for everybody,” Jones said.
The idea is to pull together the patchwork of natural, cultural and historical sites up and down the coast to develop geotourism — tourism linked to the region’s unique geography, history and natural resources — and outdoor recreation while supporting preservation and encouraging environmental conservation.
In other words, keep many of the area’s formidable natural assets — beaches, bays, marshes, wildlife habitats, parks, fisheries — the way they are, existing as they do alongside a heavily developed industrial region, and increase their value by protecting them.
“The challenge is that we’re basically inviting another federal agency that’s not currently here to come into the region and people are really trying to understand the consequences of doing that,” Jones said. “The incredible opportunity and the challenge are two sides of the same coin.”
The Houston-Galveston area is home to an enormous amount of economic development that’s important not just for the region but for the nation, Jones said. Lay on top of that a national park unit and you’ve got a proposal for a project unlike any the park service has seen before, she said.
“What we have created is a very uniquely red state model, a Texas model where the National Park Service is literally partnering with these sites that continue to be owned and managed by their own guidelines, by the people who own and manage them now, with no overlay of federal authority or management or ownership,” Jones said. “The federal government has been OK with that, even during the Obama administration.”
Becoming a national park unit requires an act of Congress and Weber and his staff are poised to present the plan at the national level, Jones said.
Natural Recreation Area designation is usually assigned to land and water with outdoor recreation potential of national significance. There are 18 such areas in the United States within the National Park Service, including Lake Meredith and Amistad National Recreation Areas in West Texas. Most emphasize water-based recreation, some are stand-alone units and some, like the Golden Gate National Recreation Area in San Francisco, are made up of clusters of lands and structures.
To learn more about the proposed Lone Star Coastal National Recreation Area, visit