Some Parks To Close For Months Because of Rita

9-30-05 - About 20 state parks in East Texas suffered damage from Hurricane Rita, and many parks may remain closed for months to make repairs, state officials said.

The parks with the most damage include Lake Livingston, Martin Dies Jr., Caddo Indian Mounds, Sabine Pass, Sea Rim, Texas State Railroad Rusk-Palestine, Village Creek and Huntsville, Texas Parks and Wildlife Commissioner John Parker said.

Almost all of the parks in East Texas do not have electricity, water, telephone communication and other utilities. Many facilities were damaged or destroyed.

"The hardest hit was Martin Dies Jr. State Park west of Jasper," according to a release from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. "Employees described the damage as catastrophic."

The roofs of seven buildings at the park were damaged and three screened shelters destroyed.

"It pretty much demolished Martin Dies State Park," Parker said.

It may take three to five months to reopen Sabine Pass Battleground State Historic Site, Parker said. Rita eroded a concrete bulkhead along the ship channel.

"The entire state park system is in a crisis mode because the Legislature refused to fund state parks and instead gave them an additional 5 percent cut to the budget it had already cut back 15 percent in the last session," Parker said in Friday's editions of The Lufkin Daily News. "Someday the people will have to say to our Legislature, 'We love our state parks and want them to be as good as Arkansas' state parks.' We have the facilities but not the dollars to fund the maintenance."

Despite financial struggles and damage, the state parks offered free camping to Hurricane Rita and Katrina refugees.

"There are thousands of evacuees at other state parks," Parker said.