The 1,800-acre Fairfield Lake State Park in Freestone County is located on private property, leased by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, since the 1970s. Photo courtesy of TPWD.
Feb. 2, 2023
As North Texans await the opening of the new Palo Pintos Mountain State Park, west of Fort Worth, a nearly 50-year-old state park, southeast of Dallas may be closing for good as early as Friday.
The Irving-based energy company’s subsidiary Luminant operated the nearby coal-powered plant known as Big Brown. Big Brown Creek was impounded to form the plant's cooling source — a 2,200-acre reservoir, dubbed Fairfield Lake, which opened in 1969. The power plant opened in 1971.
For decades, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department had an agreement with the property owner to operate the park. But now that deal could end as early as Friday, following the sale of the property, reported The Freestone County Times.
BIG BROWN SHUT DOWN
Vistra spokesperson Meranda Cohn recently told the Star-Telegram in an email, the energy company has permitted use of the property for public recreation without compensation, since the 1970s.
In 2018, Luminant shut down Big Brown, after years of pushback on the state's coal-powered plants by a coalition of environmental groups, including Sierra Club, Earthjustice, Environmental Integrity Project, the Sustainable Energy and Economic Development Coalition, National Parks Conservation Association, Breath is Lyfe and Public Citizen.
Following the closure, in 2021, Vistra put the entire 5,000-acre property, which included the park and the lake, up for sale.
Texas Parks and Wildlife sought to purchase the park portion of the property back in 2018. But Vistra declined the offer, preferring to sell the entire parcel, listed for $110 million online, according to the Texas Standard.
David Yoskowitz, executive director of TPWD, says the state agency didn't have the resources to buy all 5,000 acres back then. But thanks to the 2019 state sporting goods tax, which funnels revenue to TPWD, they have the funds now. However, Dallas-based development company Todd Interests has already purchased the property, according to reports.
Entrance of the two-mile nature trail at Fairfield Lake State Park. Photo by Suzanne Tuttle.
Fairfield Lake State Park is located about eight miles, east of Interstate 45, between Dallas and Houston.
It’s not as well-known as other state parks but it should be, according to Wendel Withrow, author of Best in Tent Camping Texas, a popular guide book in its second edition.
“It’s a very nice park with some great camp sites and hiking trails. Heavily treed and a perfect getaway from the cement jungles of Dallas or Houston,” said Withrow. “Texas is already short on publicly owned park land so the State of Texas needs to buy this beautiful site and preserve it for future generations.”
Suzanne Tuttle, a Fort Worth-based master naturalist, who has visited all 89 Texas state parks, says Fairfield’s highlights include its nature trail and a historic cemetery.
“It’s a pretty park and lots of oak savanna restoration. Prescribed fire, invasive plant removal, native plant reintroductions has been taking place there. Their nature trail is a good length — two miles — which is longer than most with that moniker in our state parks.”
Visitors to the park have documented more than 800 species of wildlife and plants on iNaturalist, including the bald eagle.
ELEVENTH HOUR EFFORT
Fairfield Lake State Park is located on a 2,200-acre lake. Photo courtesy of TPWD.
Yoskowitz, leader of TPWD, told the Texas Standard, Todd Interests wants to turn the land into a private housing development for homeowners seeking second homes for recreation and leisure.
Yoskowitz said the chairman of the Parks and Wildlife Commission has been in discussions with the buyer to find a way in can save the park.
According to Luke Metzger, executive director of Environment Texas, state legislators are also working behind the scenes. The Austin-based nonprofit posted an online petition opposing Luminant’s sale of the park to developers.
Tuttle, the former manager of the Fort Worth Nature Center and Refuge, said the loss is a blow to environmental progress in Texas.
“I find it painfully ironic that environmental groups worked so long and hard to get the Big Brown coal-fired plant shut down, and now a consequence is that the plant owner is selling the land.”
Sign the online petition to state legislators, urging them to preserve Fairfield Lake State Park.
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