Texas legislator files bill to save state park from being turned into multimillion-dollar homes, private golf course

Developer has indicated there is no more room for discussion about parkland

FAIRFIELD, Texas – Texas state officials are still trying to prevent a privately-owned property that contains a Texas state park from being turned into a multimillion-dollar private home community.

Sen. Charles Schwertner filed Senate Bill 1656 on Monday, which would allow the state of Texas to acquire the land the park sits on through eminent domain. State Rep. Angelia Orr, whose District 13 includes the park, previously filed House Bill 2332 in February with the same intention of invoking eminent domain to acquire the parklands.

Fairfield Lake State Park is a 1,460-acre park within a 5,025-acre property in Freestone County. Texas-based energy company, Vistra, put the entire acreage on the market several years ago for $110.5 million before it was purchased by a developer who plans to turn it into a golf course in addition to the private home community.

The developer that bought the land, Dallas-based firm Todd Interests, previously indicated that there was no more room for discussion about the parkland.

During a hearing of the House Committee on Culture, Recreation & Tourism on Thursday, legislators and committee members expressed their desire to continue efforts to save Fairfield Lake State Park, which closed to the public on Feb. 28.

In fiscal year 2022, the park welcomed 82,555 visitors, according to a press release from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

“Visitation has increased significantly in the last four years – up from 58,991 in 2019. TPWD has committed $70 million in infrastructure, including buildings, barns, residences, roads, utilities and a boat ramp,” TPWD officials said.

TPWD Commission Chairman Arch “Beaver” Aplin III called the park a “rare treasure providing vital recreational space.”

“When I hear Texans talk about this park, I hear them call it ‘our park.’ I heard it again today, when Freestone County Judge Linda Grant talked about the significant economic impact ‘our park’ and its 80,000 annual visitors generate for her county. She referred to it as ‘our park,” and it is our park. It’s everyone’s park, and I look forward to coming back to the table to try to find a compromise that would allow Texans to keep it,” Aplin III said.

Legislative leadership strongly supports helping Texas Parks and Wildlife Department acquire the land that is now Fairfield Lake State Park. Funds now available from the constitutional amendment dedicating sporting goods sales tax to support state parks could be tapped to make the land purchase, along with federal land and water conservation funds, a prior press release from TPWD states.

Fairfield Lake, the largest private lake in Texas, is part of the property TPWD is hoping to acquire. The lake is estimated to cover 2,400 acres with 21 miles of shoreline and is thought to be roughly 50 feet deep.

The lake is known for some of the biggest bass in Texas and has produced 69 lunkers for the TPWD’s Toyota Sharelunker Program since 2020, making it one of the most productive fisheries maintained by TPWD.

According to a press release from TPWD, an expected 14,000-acre feet of water is expected to be diverted from the lake if the land is not protected from development. Aplin III said this could reduce the lakeshore by half and devastate aquatic life.

The state first leased the park from Texas Utilities in 1971-1972 and opened it in 1976. TPWD leased the land for years before it was sold.

“After shuttering the power plant in 2018, Vistra placed a 5,000-acre tract — including the state park land — up for sale,” the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported. “Officials with Texas Parks and Wildlife have repeatedly said that the state didn’t initially have enough money to purchase the full 5,000 acres, and Vistra was uninterested in selling just a piece of the land.”

Executive Director of TPWD, David Yoskowitz, called the sale of the property an “unprecedented loss of a state treasure for Texans.”

“It is unfortunate that Vistra and this private developer were unable to come to an agreement that would have allowed the state of Texas to purchase the park from Vistra to maintain it for future generations of Texans,” Sen. Charles Schwertner previously said.

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About the Author:

Mary Claire Patton has been a journalist with KSAT 12 since 2015. She has reported on several high-profile stories during her career at KSAT and specializes in trending news and things to do around Texas and San Antonio.