Visitors trek through Penitentiary Hollow at Lake Mineral Wells State Park in January for a "wild walk" exploring the beautiful sandstone formations in remote areas accessible only on a guided hike. Photo by J.G. Domke.​

March 17, 2023

Spring is a great time of year to get out and enjoy a Texas State Park — and while you're at it, celebrate the 100th birthday of the Texas State Park system.

This year, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and its nonprofit partner Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation hope to entice visitors with free entry during its anniversary events. 

“We invite all Texans to experience these precious public lands that truly belong to them,” said Rodney Franklin, TPWD’s Texas State Parks director. “We hope this is the year every Texan visits at least one state park.”

The Centennial Celebration comes during a bittersweet year in state park history, with one park seemingly lost forever to a developer and another preparing to launch.

As last-ditch efforts to save Fairfield Lake State Park continue, park lovers look forward to the opening of the new Palo Pinto Mountains State Park west of Fort Worth, which is expected to have a soft opening in late 2023. 

“Losing Fairfield Lake State Park would represent a significant step backward in our efforts to expand outdoor recreational opportunities for Texas’ booming population,” said Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission Chairman Arch “Beaver” Aplin III in February. “This loss is especially unfathomable at a time when we are celebrating 100 years of state parks.” 


Texas State Parks: The First 100 Years

A brief history of the Texas State Park system. Courtesy of TPWD.

The birth of the state park system began when Governor Pat Neff called for a State Parks Board in 1923. He traveled the state promoting his idea and soliciting donations of land. He and his family set an example by donating 250 acres, formerly owned by his mother Isabell, whose wishes were for it to become a park. The small pecan grove became Mother Neff State Park.

But as the TPWD says in the April 2023 issue of the Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine, “The state parks system struggled to build new parks in the early days before the Great Depression.”

It was thanks to help from another mother — Miriam Amanda “Ma” Ferguson, first woman governor of Texas — who saw the federal relief funds in the 1930s as an opportunity to build new parks.

Today, Texas State Parks encompass about 630,000 acres, including 481,000 acres of Texas aquifers, rivers and reservoirs that protect our drinking water. Parks also provide critical habitat for wildlife, including more than 50 threatened and endangered species.

They also attract close to 10 million visitors every year, generating $891 million in economic value and $18 million in sales tax revenue.


For two years, TPWD has been planning to have all 89 parks in the state host 100-year anniversary celebrations. During special event days, the usual seven dollar charge for a day pass is being waived. This includes some nine state parks in North Texas, including Abilene, Cedar Hill, Cleburne, Dinosaur Valley, Eisenhower, Lake Mineral Wells, Lake Whitney, Possum Kingdom and Ray Roberts Lake.

Starting things off is Lake Mineral Wells State Park and Trailways, located just before you enter the city on US 180. They are celebrating Peddle, Paddle and Trek Day on Saturday, March 25, with a special kayak tour (limited to 10 people), a guided bike tour (limited to 30 bikers), day hikes through the Penitentiary Hollow for 20 people each; and a night hike for 30 people at 8:30 p.m. 

Also on March 25, Ray Roberts Lake State Park hosts the Spring Fling - 100 Year Celebration, with free entry. They plan to have games for families and fishing. 

On April 15, Ray Roberts hosts Greenfest on the Greenbelt at the Isle du Bois Unit, from 7:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Dinosaur Valley State Park hosts a Spring Wing Ding in Glen Rose, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. And Lake Whitney State Park hosts a Star Party in the Park at 8 p.m.

“Our whole goal is to get park users who normally don’t come to our state parks to come," said David Owen, assistant supervisor at Mineral Wells State Park. "The underutilized users."

Texas State Parks limited edition 100-year anniversary mug. Courtesy of TPWD.Texas State Parks limited edition 100-year anniversary mug. Courtesy of TPWD.

Park visitors can learn about events near them and purchase limited edition state park merchandise on the Texas State Parks 100 Years website, the Texas State Parks app and Texas State Parks Facebook and Instagram pages. 

The Centennial will also be commemorated with The Art of Texas Parks exhibit, which will be hosted at several museums. The exhibit is a visual arts survey of state parks and features 34 parks by some of Texas’ best contemporary artists.


In addition to celebrating the past, the Centennial is about looking ahead to the next 100 years. In January 2023, TPWF kicked off a Centennial Fundraising Campaign to raise funds for priority projects at state parks across Texas. TPWF’s fundraising effort will drive statewide, grassroots giving to raise $2 million that will deliver equipment and enhancements to the visitor experience for all state parks.

For more information on the Centennial Celebration, including signature events, the history of Texas State Parks and how to make a day visit or overnight reservation, visit


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