The end of an era is approaching for the beloved Fairfield Lake State Park in Texas, as it is set to close permanently by the end of February.
The 5,000-acre property, located 96 miles south of Dallas, was leased to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department for over 50 years by energy companies Vistra and Luminant, according to a report by KHOU 11.
However, the landlords recently received a lease termination notice from the landowners, Vistra Corp., who have sold the land to Dallas-based real estate developer Shawn Todd and his firm, Todd Interests, for $110.5 million.
The new development plans call for the land to be transformed into an exclusive gated community, complete with multimillion-dollar homes and a private golf course. This news comes as a blow to the park’s supporters, who have seen the park as a treasure of Texas.
With its scenic beauty, bird-watching opportunities, and over 250 species of birds recorded, including the bald eagle, Fairfield Lake State Park was a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers.
The park, known for its fishing, swimming, and kayaking opportunities, also offers 15 miles of trails for hiking, biking, and horseback riding. The lake attracted anglers who fished for a variety of species, including bass, crappie, perch, catfish, tilapia, and red drum.
The park’s closure is a significant setback in the state’s efforts to expand outdoor recreational opportunities for its growing population, according to Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission Chairman Arch “Beaver” Aplin III.
Despite the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s attempts to purchase the state park, the company and the buyer were not willing to sell any part of the land.
The department has invested $72 million in renovations and improvements to the park since 1976, and its closure is considered an unprecedented loss of a state treasure by the department’s executive director, David Yoskowitz.
With over 2,700 camping reservations already made for dates after February 27, park staff will now have to remove equipment, relocate staff members, and cancel upcoming reservations in the 120 days leading up to the park’s permanent closure.
State Representative Angelia Orr has filed a bill to allow the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to use eminent domain to seize the park’s land. Lawmakers are working on a bill to prevent future closures of state parks.
The Vistra spokesperson stated that the company had leased the land to the state for free and gave a two-year notice of its intent to terminate the lease, which was effective October 2020.
The spokesperson also said that Vistra encouraged the state to submit a bid to purchase the entire property, but the state did not submit a bid.
The closing of Fairfield Lake State Park is a heartbreaking loss for the community and all Texans who enjoy the state’s unique parklands, according to State Senator Charles Schwertner.
Luke Metzger, executive director of the advocacy group Environment Texas, said that the park’s closure during the 100-year anniversary of the state park system, was especially tragic. He added that Texas desperately needs more state parks, not fewer.