Sunday, July 30, 2006

The train don't come by here no more

That is, if the Republicans, led by Rick Perry, get their way. From the Houston Chronicle:

The venerable Texas State Railroad may run from here to Palestine, but it's about to get sidetracked in Austin.

The 110-year-old railroad is the most endangered of the 114 properties in the state parks system, which is going on the offensive for increased funding after more than a decade of tight budgets that have led to decaying facilities and reduced services. ...

"Best I can determine, we're either going to become a static display, or (local railroad boosters are) going to find a private operator," said Robert Crossman, the railroad's superintendent. "Nobody has come back to me and said, 'If funding greatly improves, y'all are going to continue to operate.' "Ellen Buchanan, a Texas Parks and Wildlife Department regional director, said she's been told her agency will not keep operating the trains even if funding increases in the next legislative session. Crossman is hopeful money can be found to keep it rolling a bit beyond the planned Dec. 31 closure, but he isn't optimistic.

Most of the parks in Texas are in shambles:

More than half the state's parks, historical sites and other preserves have considered or enacted service limitations because of money problems. They include the slowed reconstruction of Sea Rim State Park after Hurricane Rita, and the Sunday-Tuesday closure of the Varner-Hogg State Historic Site in Brazoria County.

Penny-pinching for more than a decade also has affected quality, said Walt Dabney, the state's parks director.

"We're absolutely in the ditch," Dabney said.

Dabney fondly recalls working at the Inks Lake State Park near Burnet as an intern in the late 1960s. And then there's the recent memory of a visit to the rest rooms he once cleaned.

"They are absolutely amazing. Just worn out," Dabney said. "You can see the building is literally collapsing in on itself."

From the Tyler Morning Telegraph:

(Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris) Bell said that the railroad is just one of the state parks suffering to the brink of closure. Texas ranks 49th in state park funding, and per capita, Texans spend $1.20 on state parks annually, compared to the national average of $7.50.

Money problems have been mounting at state parks for years, forcing Texas Parks and Wildlife to cut park hours and staff and limit maintenance.

Bell said that the Battleship Texas is held together with "tape and Silly Putty," and that the elevator at the San Jacinto Monument no longer goes all the way to the top.

"Seriously, sometimes the punch line writes itself," he said.

More at the links.

Somervell County Salon has more of the Democratic candidates' whistlestop in Palestine yesterday, including photos, and will have video of the speakers posted later now; click here.

If you want to save our state parks, then you have no business voting for any Republican.

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