In 2011, a group of private property owners, local government leaders and managers of parks, preserves, refuges, and historic sites along the upper Texas Gulf coast got together to strategize about regional economic development and coastal resilience. On the table was a strategy to enhance Texas-led steward-ship and conservation, develop an economic sector compatible with periodic flooding, and expand and promote nature and heritage tourism and outdoor recreation opportunities. From this meeting, an idea was born: to engage the National Park Service (NPS)—with its domestic and international brand identity and marketing advantages—in a locally driven, regional-scale partnership that would become the proposed Lone Star Coastal National Recreation Area (LSCNRA).
As a unit of the National Park System, the LSCNRA could offer the region’s communities significant economic advantages, while retaining local governance and individual landowner control. It could provide a framework for economic development that supports private property rights, historic preservation, conservation, and traditional land uses; enhances employee recruitment and retention for local industry; and promotes small business. It is adapted and resilient to the periodic flooding that characterizes this coastal region, and is fully compatible with structural approaches to storm and flood protection. See Proposed Lone Star Coastal National Recreation Area: Benefits of Designation (2019).
The proposed Lone Star Coastal National Recreation Area would be a coalition of non-contiguous sites along the upper Texas Gulf coast joined in a voluntary partnership with the National Park Service with the goals of enhancing Texas-led stewardship and conservation, developing a coastal economic sector compatible with periodic flooding, and expanding and promoting nature and heritage tourism and outdoor recreation opportunities. The National Park Service’s expertise in education, visitor services, tourism marketing and stakeholder coordination, among other things, will make it a valued partner in this innovative partnership. See Proposed Lone Star Coastal National Recreation Area: Integrating History and Nature (2019).
Texans are working with Texas’s Members of Congress to draft legislation for a federal designation establishing the LSCNRA to conserve, protect and promote the benefits of the natural, cultural and recreational resources of the upper Texas Gulf coast. LSCNRA legislation will strongly protect Texas private property rights and encourage more tourism and economic opportunity.
What is a National Recreation Area?
A National Recreation Area is a designation given by Congress to land and water with significant outdoor recreation potential. National Recreation Areas are highly regarded and enjoy an enhanced stature among the universe of recreational designations. They are chosen because of unique recreational potential and are recognized and valued by tourists from around the world. Parks designated as National Recreation Areas are an especially good fit for Texas because they allow for significant local participation and control.
There are 18 National Recreation Areas in the US within the National Park Service (NPS), including Lake Meredith and Amistad Natural Recreation Areas in Texas. Most emphasize water-based recreation. They range in size, contiguity, land ownership structure, governing institutions and functional purposes. The NPS provides a coordinating presence, but may own little of the managed lands.
How would the proposed Lone Star Coastal National Recreation Area (LSCNRA) work?
More than two dozen public and private owners of some 250,000 acres have indicated that they want to voluntarily participate in the LSCNRA partnership, which has been designed with strong local governance and respect for private property rights.
- A local partnership would include local, state, and federal government agencies, nonproﬁt organizations, and private landowners.
- A locally developed plan would guide the national recreation area and any agreements with associated sites.
- The drafted legislation is customized for Texas values and independence, while realizing the signiﬁcant beneﬁts of voluntarily engaging with a NPS unit.
- The National Park Service may own only the speciﬁc parcels of land identiﬁed in the authorizing legislation, and may acquire those parcels only by donation, exchange, or purchase with donated funds from willing sellers.
- Participating landowners retain full ownership and control of their land. Participation is voluntary and at will. Partner organizations could participate in various ways, consistent with their missions and resources.
- The diverse, landscape-scale partnership could position the region to com-pete successfully for funding and resources that traditionally have been unavailable to this region or to the individual partner organizations and agencies.
- The National Park Service can play a coordinating role and contribute ex-pertise in areas such as education, interpretation, science, visitor services, recreation management, and planning.
The private nonproﬁt Lone Star Coastal Alliance has already begun raising private funds to support the proposed LSCNRA and associated sites.
The economic value of the upper Texas Gulf coast’s mosaic of natural, cultural, and historical sites is largely untapped. Designation of the LSCNRA could develop this potential more fully, offering a range of benefits to participating sites and local communities. See Proposed Lone Star Coastal National Recreation Area: Economic Impact Projections (2019).
A 2017 economic impact study projected that the designation of the LSCNRA would likely add $140 million in local sales and 3,485 jobs to the four-county LSCNRA area in its first ten years of operation. See Opportunity Knocks: How the Proposed Lone Star Coastal National Recreation Area Could Attract Visitors, Boost Business, and Create Jobs (Harbinger Consulting Group, 2019).
National Park System units generate considerable economic benefits for their local regions supported by visitor spending. A 2016 NPS report showed that NPS tourism is a significant driver in the national economy, returning about $10 for every $1 invested by the NPS. The increased tourism significantly affects local economies as well. In 2016, visitors to NPS units contributed more than $34.9 billion to local economies and supported more than 318,000 jobs nationally. The report finds that NPS visitors spent an estimated $288.5 million locally, supporting 4,400 jobs and $410.3 million in economic output in the Texas economy. See 2016 Visitor Spending Effects: Economic Contributions to Local Communities, States, and the Nation (April 2017).
Preserving natural spaces and recreational opportunities attracts and retains people and businesses. By offering a nationally recognized outdoor recreation destination adjacent to a major metropolitan area, the LSCNRA would help ensure that the upper Texas Gulf coast remains a top place to live and locate business. It would contribute significantly to the long-term economic and social vitality of the region.
In addition to the social and economic benefits that the LSCNRA would bring to the region, maintaining open spaces and nature tourism sites along the upper Texas Gulf coast helps support coastal resiliency. The LSCNRA is intended to function as part of a structural and non-structural regional flood damage mitigation strategy. It is entirely compatible with any other flood damage mitigation alternatives. As a consequence, the LSCNRA Coalition and the Lone Star Coastal Alliance do not take a position on any of the structural alternatives that may be considered.
Making It Happen
In order for the proposed Lone Star Coastal National Recreation Area to become a designated unit of the National Park Service, a member of the Texas Congressional delegation must introduce a bill, Congress must pass it, and the President must sign it into law. Proposed legislation to designate the Lone Star Coastal National Recreation Area has been drafted by the Lone Star Coastal National Recreation Area Coalition. Plans are being made to introduce the legislation in Congress.