Mayor's Update #5: City Negotiates Self-Pay Compromise with Blanco State Park
By Mayor Bruce Peele
October 9, 2015
Blanco State Park is the pride and joy of our City. It, like the City and County, suffered considerable damage during the Memorial Day Flood. The Park Staff, aided by other state workers and dozens of local volunteers, have worked hard to get the Park back into operation. The City of Blanco has provided significant assistance in this effort by allowing the Park to dump more than 400 truckloads of flood debris at the City’s waste water plant where, in time, it will be properly disposed of. The City looks forward to the complete recovery of Blanco State Park and is committed to aiding that recovery.
In the aftermath of the Flood, the Park rebuilt its perimeter fence and thereby closed several previously unrestricted, pedestrian access points into the Park. Some Blanco residents expressed concern that Park was being closed to local foot/bicycle traffic. Some citizens objected to the restricted access based on the fact that their parents or grandparents had donated land for the Park with no expectation that their descendants would ever be fenced out. Other citizens expressed concern about safety implications, i.e. where citizens could formerly walk through the park and under the Hwy 281 bridge to gain access to downtown, without having to cross the busy highway, the new fence made that impossible. The City was additionally concerned that closing the Bindseil Park gate on weekends was preventing out-of-town Park visitors from walking through Bindseil Park to the Blanco Town Square, thus depriving retail establishments and restaurants of potential customers.
Resisting calls to “go to war” with the Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife (TPWD) on this issue, the City opted instead for reasoned dialogue. Meetings were held with TPWD officials starting with local Park Superintendent Ethan Belicek, all the way up to Mr. Brent Leisure, Director of Texas State Parks. As a result of these meetings, we learned that TPWD has been directed by the State Auditor’s Office to increase its fiscal controls and establish an accurate visitation collection process. Having so many unrestricted access points into Blanco State Park made that difficult to achieve. On the other hand, there was recognition that Blanco State Park, situated entirely within the Blanco City Limits, had a long term relationship with the City and thus, constituted a unique situation. We sought a compromise and got one.
The Park has just installed a remote “Self-Pay Station” at the Park entrance on the south side of the Kendalia Road bridge. It is similar to the afterhours Self-Pay Station at the Park’s Main Gate. Visitors can now go to the Kendalia Road bridge entrance, complete a Self-Pay form, drop it and the entrance fee ($4/day for visitors 13 years old and older) in the box, and proceed into the Park. If the visitor has a Texas State Parks Pass ($70/year for the entire family and guests), he or she can simply call the Park office (830-833-4551) with the Park Pass number, stop by the Park Headquarters and give them the number or just write the number on the Self-Pay form and drop it in the box. The Park intends to spot check visitors to help ensure compliance.
As soon as the North end of the Park reopens, the Park intends to open the Bindseil Park gate on both weekdays and weekends, putting another Self-Pay Station by the gate. That will allow Park visitors to have access to Bindseil Park and downtown Blanco as well as let local citizens use the Park to walk or bicycle under Hwy 281.
Obviously, this compromise will only work if people are honest and actually complete the Self-Pay forms and pay the fees or call the Park HQ with their Park Pass number. If it becomes apparent that people are abusing the system, TPWD has reserved the right to close the two, unmanned pedestrian entrances in order to comply with the accountability requirement mandated by the State Auditor’s Office. If that happens, we’re back to square one and will seek another solution. In the meantime, I believe we need to cooperate with the Park and make this compromise work.