- What is a national recreation area?
- How would a national recreation area benefit the region?
- How would a national recreation area be funded?
- How is the effort currently funded?
- Will private land be acquired? Are private landowners affected by a national recreation area designation?
- How is a national recreation area managed and governed?
- What is the Park Service role in a national recreation area?
- Who staffs and maintains the National Recreation Area?
- How much land has already been secured, and how much more is anticipated?
1. What is a national recreation area?
National recreation areas are units of the National Parks System (NPS). They differ in structure depending upon their origin and purpose. Many national recreation areas surround federally-built reservoirs and are solely owned and managed by NPS. Both Lake Meredith and Lake Amistad in Texas are examples of this model. Some regions with major urban centers have established national recreation areas that combine open spaces, significant historic resources and important natural areas to offer outdoor recreation opportunities for large numbers of people. Boston Harbor Islands is an example of this alternate model.
The proposed Lone Star Coastal National Recreation Area (LSCNRA) is based on this second model. It is structured as a grass-roots, “opt in” partnership of willing landowners, whereby participants determine the rules and extent of their involvement, devise a management plan through collaborative processes, and join in the governance of the recreation area once formed. Ownership and control of participating LSCNRA sites remains with the individual partner landowner, unless the landowner chooses to transfer some or all of their interest to the National Park Service.
Designation of a national recreation area would put our region on a par with the nation’s most outstanding, nationally significant destinations, bringing exposure to large national and international visitor markets. The 270 million annual national park visitors make a significant contribution to the nation’s economy and, especially, to gateway communities adjacent to these areas. The principal economic beneficiaries include vendors in the food, lodging, outdoor recreation, and travel businesses. Other local and national firms benefit by providing services or supplies required for operating, maintaining and sustaining recreation areas. (Please see the economic impact study, “Opportunity Knocks,” for more detailed information about the benefits of the LSCNRA.)
Additionally, creating the Lone Star Coastal National Recreation Area within a coastal buffer zone is one strategy for capitalizing on the economic value of the area’s natural, cultural, and historical sites while supporting flood damage reduction. Coastal natural areas store hurricane storm surge water and support a resilient coastal economy now and into the future.
The business plan for the LSCNRA (currently under development) is tailored to an era of fiscal reform and restraint and, by relying on creative funding tools including philanthropy, recreation fees, and other revenue sources, will minimize use of public sector funding. Partners are anticipated to continue providing funding at current levels for their own sites but are under no obligation to increase expenditures.
It is a goal of the leadership of the LSCNRA to raise private funds to supplement the budget of the LSCNRA. This funding may come from local and national private sources such as competitive grants, foundations, and private donors. Achieving national recreation area status typically expands private fundraising opportunities by enhancing the region’s ability to compete for funding from non-local sources. A 501(c)3 organization will be established to assist with implementation. A small amount of federal funding, in particular, funds for salaries of those National Park Service employees providing public education and law enforcement within the area, may be requested by the LSCNRA Partnership in order to establish the LSCNRA.
To date 100% of funding for the LSCNRA planning process has been provided by grants and donations from the private sector, and by the National Parks Conservation Association, a nationwide, non-profit membership organization in support of the National Parks System. Partners Coalition and Steering Committee members are volunteers and serve without compensation.
It is not a goal of the proposed LSCNRA to acquire additional lands or easements. No land will be condemned. Only those landowners who choose to participate would be directly affected by designation. There would be no additional regulations governing non-participating private landowners.
A national recreation area can be governed using a local, state, and federal public-private partnership. This provides a flexible way to achieve the benefits and stature of National Park Service involvement while sustaining local participation in management. Landowners who choose to participate in the LSCNRA would be governed by their own, jointly-developed management agreements that would address issues common to the national recreation area. These agreements specify the formal governing and management roles of the National Park Service and the state and local governments, non-profit organizations and other private landowners.
The Park Service role varies significantly across the different national recreation areas. For national recreation areas that are structured as partnerships, the Park Service can play a coordinating role and contribute expertise in areas such as education, interpretation, science, visitor services, recreation management, and planning. The Park Service may, but is not required to, own some land within the national recreation area. Any Park Service lands would be established solely through voluntary transactions with nonprofit landowning organizations or others interested in transferring lands to the Park Service.
The National Park Service would provide some staffing, in addition to the staff provided by the participating landowners. Unless otherwise specified in a subsequent management agreement, maintenance of sites remains the responsibility of the site owner.
To date, 19 land owning partners have officially committed to participate in the Lone Star Coastal National Recreation Area (LSCNRA), representing more than 20,000 acres of land, including Chambers, Matagorda and Brazoria counties, the cities of Freeport, Surfside Village, and Bay City, Boy Scouts of America Bay Area Council, Galveston Island Park Board of Trustees, Galveston Historical Foundation, Galveston Bay Foundation, Scenic Galveston, the Gulf Coast Bird Observatory, the Cradle of Texas Conservancy, Houston Audubon Society, the Nature Conservancy, Texas Historical Commission, Matagorda County Birding Nature Center, Palacios Prairie Wetlands and Artist Boat. Moody Gardens and Sea Scout Base-Galveston are affiliated sites. Supporting organizations include Ducks Unlimited, Sea Turtle Restoration Project, and the Friends of Anahuac Refuge. Additional landowners that are anticipated to join the LSCNRA partnership are those who have been advising the LSCNRA Partners Coalition since the beginning. These include US Fish & Wildlife Service, the US Army Corps of Engineers, and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. These groups have total acreage exceeding 200,000. It is possible that others may join the LSCNRA partnership in the future.