Texas, which already features a national seashore, would benefit greatly in terms of economics and storm protection if a national recreation area were created along the Gulf of Mexico near Houston, according to a National Parks Conservation Association report.
The envisioned Lone Star Coastal National Recreation Area could grow within a decade to lure 1.5 million visitors a year, who in turn would generate $192 million in sales, and support 5,260 jobs, according to the report, Opportunity Knocks, released last week.
“Lone Star Coastal National Recreation Area has the potential to be a game-changer for the upper Texas Gulf Coast – both economically and through the preservation of this unique ecosystem for flood protection and enjoyment," said Suzanne Dixon, the Texas regional director for NPCA. "While the economic benefits could be substantial, they are really icing on the cake, as the natural and cultural resources of this region absolutely deserve additional protections. The National Parks Conservation Association supports further exploration of a national recreation area in the region and we look forward to an ongoing conversation with the local community and governing agencies.”
According to the report, the NRA would provide a buffer along the Texas Gulf from hurricanes, such as Ike, which cut through the region in 2008, the report notes.
"Yet portions of the region fared better (from the hurricane), showing that undeveloped lands along the coast serve as a natural buffer for a tremendous amount of storm surge tide. This natural landscape, from sea level to as much as 15 feet elevation, is an integral part of a long-term, nonstructural flood mitigation system," states the report. "In other words, the water-storage capacity of these low-lying areas can help reduce flooding and property damage inland."
While the areas envisioned for the NRA, which as proposed would stretch from across four counties -- Matagorda, Brazoira, Galveston and Chambers, and encompass the cities of Galveston and Freeport -- already boast a tourism industry, the NRA model would link those existing industries, offer a nationally recognized branding, improve quality of life for residents, and leverage dollars from the federal government, non-profit organizations, and corporations, the report suggests.
“The coordination and stature of a national recreation area could help Galveston County leverage its resources as we implement our new Parks, Recreation, Open Space and Conservation/Natural Resources Master Plan," Dennis J. Harris, director of the county's parks and senior services program, said in the report. "This plan focuses on nature-based recreation and open space. Participating in a national recreation area could help us attract funding and get some things accomplished at Fort Travis Seashore Historic Park and other nature and historical parks that we have identified as priorities.”
In Freeport, city manager Jeff Pynes spoke of the added tourism potential an NRA would create.
"A lot of people come to Freeport and this area because of our fantastic outdoor recreation. But while they are here camping, or fishing, or bird-watching, many of them take time to visit our historical sites and museums," said Mr. Pynes. "We’ve found that nature is an important draw for opening people’s eyes to history.”
Plus, while lands protected under an NRA would boost the local economy by attracting visitors for the outdoor activities made possible, it also would prevent these lands from being developed and thus contribute to a buffer against storms.
"The cost savings could be dramatic, both in diminished property damage and in avoided costs of installing massive flood-control structrues to replace these natural buffers," the report notes.
But before a Lone Star Coastal NRA can become a reality, a member of Congress needs to introduce legislation directing the National Park Service to evaluate the potential for such an NRA. If the Park Service deems the area eligible, then legislation creating the NRA would have to pass Congress.
“Creating and developing a national recreation area along the upper Texas Gulf coast would foster economic activity and growth, and bring national and international recognition to our tremendous natural and cultural resources," said James A. Baker III, the honorary chair of the Lone Star Coastal National Recreation Area Steering Committee. "This would be a boon not just to the coastal counties, but to the Houston-Galveston region as a whole.
“For these and other reasons, I support this worthwhile effort and encourage others to join me.”