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Texas state park must close because landlord is selling the property to a developer

After investing $72 million in improvements at Fairfield Lake State Park over three decades, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department is losing its lease.
Credit: Texas State Parks
Fairfield Lake State Park

DALLAS — Fairfield Lake State Park, 96 miles south of Dallas, is expected to close permanently by the end of the month because its landlord is selling the land to a developer. 

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department received a lease termination notice from the owners of the 5,000-acre property. Vistra Corp. is selling the land to  Dallas-based real estate developer Shawn Todd and his firm, Todd Interests, for $110.5 million.

Todd announced the land will be turned into an exclusive gated community, which includes multimillion-dollar homes and a private golf course, The Dallas Morning News and Bloomberg reported.

A renowned fishing spot, Fairfield Lake attracts anglers who fish for bass, crappie, perch, catfish, tilapia and red drum. The lake is also popular for swimming and kayaking. 

The surrounding land offers 15 miles of trails for hiking, biking and horseback riding. 

With close to 250 species of birds recorded — including the bald eagle — the park is a bird-watching heaven.

“Losing Fairfield Lake State Park would represent a significant step backward in our efforts to expand outdoor recreational opportunities for Texas’ booming population,” said Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission Chairman Arch “Beaver” Aplin III. “This loss is especially unfathomable at a time when we are celebrating 100 years of state parks, yet absent any cooperation or interest in working with us from the developer, we have no other options."

Credit: Texas State Parks
Fairfield Lake State Park

Aplin said the agency tried to purchase the state park site, but neither the company nor the buyer would consider selling part or all of the land to the state.

For more than 50 years, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department leased land for the state park from energy companies, Vistra and Luminant. Since 1976, the state has invested $72 million in renovations and improvements to the park.

“This is an unprecedented loss of a state treasure for Texans,” said David Yoskowitz, executive director of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. “The demand for outdoor recreation exceeds supply in Texas, so losing even one state park is a setback for all of us who enjoy publicly accessible lands.”

The department said the park will close permanently Feb. 28. The Vistra spokesperson said the state will have 120 days from Feb. 13 — the date the lease termination was sent — to vacate the property. 

During that time, park staff will begin to remove equipment, relocate staff members to other parks and cancel upcoming camping reservations. More than 2,700 people had already reserved spots for dates after Feb. 27, according to a press release.

State Rep. Angelia Orr, R-Itasca, whose district includes the park, filed a bill Tuesday that, if passed by the Legislature and signed by the governor, would allow the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to use eminent domain to seize the park’s land.

Orr said lawmakers also are working on a bill to prevent more state parks from being closed.

“This treasured piece of Texas has blessed our local families and countless visitors for generations, and losing it is hard to comprehend,” she said. “I join park lovers in Freestone County and across the state in expressing my sincere disappointment in hearing this news. As a result, we are now working on legislation to prevent this from ever occurring in any of our other beautiful state parks going forward.”

Luke Metzger, executive director of the advocacy group Environment Texas, said it was especially tragic that the park will close during the 100-year anniversary of the state park system.

“Our state parks are sacred to us as Texans,” Metzger said. “Unfortunately, this loss means fewer nights camped, fewer fish reeled in and fewer memories with our families. 

“Texas desperately needs more state parks, not fewer,” he added.

State Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, who chairs the Business and Commerce Committee voiced his displeasure Tuesday.

“Today’s heartbreaking announcement of the closing of Fairfield Lake State Park is a tremendous loss for Freestone County and all Texans who enjoy our state’s unique parklands,” he said. “It is unfortunate that Vistra and this private developer were unable to come to an agreement that would have allowed the state of Texas to purchase the park from Vistra to maintain it for future generations of Texans.”

A Vistra spokesperson said the company has leased the land to the state at no cost and gave the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department a two-year notice that it intended to terminate the lease effective October 2020. The spokesperson said Vistra encouraged the state to submit a bid to buy the entire property — but the state did not submit a bid.

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