Fairfield Lake State Park in Fairfield, Texas has been open to the public since 1976, but is being sold to Todd Interests—a Dallas-based development firm. Vistra Energy, which owns the land and has leased it to the state at no cost, listed the property for sale in 2021 with an asking price of $110 million.
Fairfield Lake State Park, southeast of Dallas, Texas, is poised to become an exclusive community with multimillion-dollar homes and a private golf course, The Dallas Morning News reported. The park will close Feb. 28 after months of negotiations between private companies and the state failed to secure a deal.
The landowner of Fairfield Lake State Park is selling the property to a Dallas developer, who plans to build the high-end gated community, The Morning News reported. On Feb. 13, Texas Parks and Wildlife received a notice to vacate the 50-year-old lease within 120 days.
Although the park has been open to the public since 1976, the property is owned by Vistra Energy, which has leased the land to the state at no cost, The Morning News reported. Vistra is selling to Todd Interests, the developer responsible for high-end projects in downtown Dallas, including The National and East Quarter. The developer, Shawn Todd, has indicated he will no longer lease the land to the state.
Todd Interests did not respond to requests for comment, The Morning News reported.
“It is crystal clear that the developer plans to close down the park,” said Arch “Beaver” Aplin III, chairman of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission. “To lose a gem like Fairfield Lake, it’s just horrible.”
Overlooking the 2,400-acre Fairfield Lake, the park offers miles of trails for hiking, biking and horseback riding, but its biggest draw is its catfish and bass fishing, The Morning News reported.
The park and lake lie along a rural stretch of land in Freestone County, roughly 90 miles southeast of Dallas, The Morning News reported. Its central location to Dallas, Houston and Austin makes the area highly sought-after real estate.
Vistra listed the property for sale in 2021 with an asking price of $110 million, The Morning News reported. At that time, Texas Parks and Wildlife could not afford to purchase the land, said Aplin, who is the founder and CEO of Buc-ee’s.
But now, after passage of a constitutional amendment in 2019 that directs sales-tax revenue from sporting goods to the department, it might have had the means to do so, Aplin told The Morning News.
Vistra spokeswoman Meranda Cohn said the company has never received compensation for the lease and has worked with Texas Parks and Wildlife for the past several years to keep the park open, The Morning News reported.
“We are proud to have made this privately-owned land available to generations of Texans for the past 50 years,” Cohn said.
The park’s closure comes at a critical time: Texas is growing fast, with the population soon expected to hit 30 million, The Morning News reported. Park visitation skyrocketed during the COVID-19 pandemic and shows no signs of slowing, park officials have said.
In 2021, Texas state parks had a record 9.94 million visitors, The Morning News reported. Last year, Fairfield welcomed 82,000 visitors, more than during any year in its history.
On average, parks are seeing a 2% to 5% jump in visitors each year, The Morning News reported. This year, the number is expected to top 10 million for the first time.
Texas, however, lags behind other states in public parkland, according to a report by the nonprofit Environment Texas Research and Policy Center, The Morning News reported. The state ranks 35th in the nation for state park acreage per capita. Texas has 8 million more people than Florida, but 86,000 fewer acres of state parkland, the report says.
“Texas really doesn’t have enough state park land,” said Janice Bezanson, Senior Policy Director for the Texas Conservation Alliance. “It’s particularly sad to see a popular park shut down at a time when we should be celebrating our state parks.”
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the state’s parks system, with numerous celebrations planned across the state, The Morning News reported. Later this year, Palo Pinto Mountains State Park is scheduled to open about 75 miles west of Fort Worth. It will be the region’s first new state park in 25 years.
Elected leaders on Feb. 14 bemoaned the park’s closure and urged the companies to continue to work with the state for a solution, The Morning News reported.
“Texas cannot lose a state park to development,” state Sen. Charles Perry, a Lubbock Republican and chairman of the state’s water, agriculture and rural affairs committee, said in a written statement. “Some 80,000 hardworking Texans will lose a place of solitude, sport fishing and priceless memory making if the park is closed.”
Fairfield is not the only state park on leased land, The Morning News reported. Texas leases land for more than a dozen other parks, including Monahans Sandhills State Park in West Texas and Ray Roberts Lake State Park, north of Dallas.
“This is an unprecedented loss of a state treasure for Texans,” David Yoskowitz, executive director of Texas Parks and Wildlife, said in a written statement. “The demand for outdoor recreation exceeds supply in Texas, so losing even one state park is a set-back for all of us who enjoy publicly accessible lands.”
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