Members of the Cleburne Lions Club learned of the benefits of state parks in general and Cleburne State Park in particular during their Wednesday luncheon.
Cleburne State Park Superintendent Michael Smith discussed both.
From forests to beaches to deserts and canyons, state parks span the diversity of Texas and attract about 8 million visitors each year while generating about $891 added value in economic impact to the state and 6,801 jobs.
Closer to home, Cleburne State Park saw about 125,000 visitor during the fiscal year that just ended on Aug. 31, Smith said, numbers that exceed many of the state’s larger tiered parks and numbers Smith credits to the staff’s customer service and local support.
“We want you all to know that this is your park and we are here for you,” Smith said. “And you’re going to be warmly welcomed when you get there. Because when we hire employees for the park we look for passion and dedication first.”
Smith credited as well the Friends of the Cleburne State Park, a 501(C)(3) organization that exists solely to benefit the park.
“They are a wonderful group of dedicated volunteers,” Smith said. “They don’t just pay lip service but put their plans into action. If it were not for them our park would not be what it is today.”
Among projects initiated by the Friends of Cleburne State Park a park store and vending machines including a vending machine system for kayak rentals.
The huge benefit there, Smith said, is that all the money generated stays within the park and Cleburne as opposed to being sent to Austin.
Smith also praised the Civilian Conservation Corps, or CCC, a New Deal-era program created in the aftermath of the Great Depression to provide work and opportunity for the country’s many unemployed.
Among many other projects, CCC workers constructed a number of state parks throughout America including Cleburne State Park.
“If it were not for the CCC our state park system would be very different than it is today and much smaller,” Smith said.
Little is left of the CCC campsite from the 1930s and little of the original park structures though what is left is highlighted.
A bridge now used only for walking over remains and provides a much used backdrop for pictures and an old stone water fountain remains.. Some of the old water tower remains and the well continues to be used.
“We’ve looked for the star at the base of the original flag pole but think it may no longer exist,” Smith said.
Smith lauded the park’s 500 acres, which include a lake, roughly 11.5 miles of trail and three miles of road along with 58 campsites, male and female barracks, playground and swimming areas as well as fishing and fishing piers among other amenities.
Smith said he loves that fact that his job provides an opportunity to help in other ways such as during hurricanes or other natural disasters that displace people During such times those affected are allowed to stay in the state parks for free.
“I love working for an agency where that’s stressed and allowed and we have the ability to help people,” Smith said. “And love having the opportunity to develop and train our employees as well.”
During normal times, however, admission is $6 for those 13 and up. Year passes are available for $70 and other discounts apply for senior citizens and disabled residents.
Contrary to what many believe, park rangers, while also law enforcement, are not game wardens, Smith added. State park employees are under the Texas State Parks and Wildlife division while game wardens are under a separate state agency.
Cleburne Lion Bobby de la Garza praised the park as well.
“I love our state park,” de la Garza said. “I think of it as my ranch that I get to share with other people and that I don’t have to maintain. Every time I show up the place is clean and well maintained. That park is gorgeous and right here in our own backyard.”