The more George Bristol dug into the history of the Texas state parks system, the more he returned to the same conclusion: Fort Worth’s fingerprints are all over it.
“There’s almost a straight line from the very beginning, with Amon Carter and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram voicing endorsement and support of state parks that went right through the ‘30s,” Bristol said.
Bristol, a prominent conservationist who led a 20-year push to increase funding for state parks, spent two years in his Fort Worth office researching the history of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, which is celebrating its centennial this year.
The result of his labor: “Texas State Parks: The First 100 Years, 1923-2023.” The coffee table book, now available online and soon in state park gift shops, tracks the park system from its origins in the Great Depression and the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration to the boom in visitors during the COVID-19 pandemic – all alongside scenic images of Texas’ natural beauty.
The book is Bristol’s third foray into publishing. His first book, “On Politics and Parks,” focuses on Bristol’s personal journey from campaigning for Hubert Humphrey to becoming a national advocate for expanding parks access and funding. The second profiles Montana’s Glacier National Park, which inspired Bristol’s lifelong passion for conservation.
Bristol, 82, can tick off a long list of people with Fort Worth roots who played crucial roles in the development of Texas parks. Amon G. Carter, Sr., the city’s most famous booster and founder of the Star-Telegram, is among them.
Carter and the Star-Telegram’s editorial board were “staunch” supporters of efforts to expand state parks, Bristol said. In 1944, Carter delivered a deed of cession to President Roosevelt so that state parkland could merge with federal land and become Big Bend National Park.
Fort Worth businessman and philanthropist Perry Richardson Bass, who amassed an oil and ranching fortune, was also key to building public support for the outdoors, Bristol said. Bass advocated for coastal restoration and building up Texas’ fishing population, he added.
“It’s helpful to know that there were people back then, like Amon Carter, who stuck their neck out and got friends to do the same,” Bristol said. “It’s not just a bunch of ‘tree huggers.’ You have the Johnsons, the Connallys, the Basses. They had a lot of clout and they used their clout to do the right thing. Sometimes people don’t do that.”
Then there was Don Kennard, who represented Tarrant County in the Texas Legislature between 1953 and 1973. As a state senator, he established the Texas Park Fund through a penny-a-pack cigarette tax. For several decades, the tax collected $16 million annually to fund new park acquisitions, according to Texas Parks and Wildlife magazine.
When cigarette consumption began to taper off in the latter half of the 20th century, state Sen. John Montford of Lubbock passed a 1993 law aimed at sending sporting goods sales tax revenue to the parks department. While Montford represented West Texas, he is a Fort Worth native, Bristol said.
“So many people have connections to Fort Worth. It’s an interesting side story that I almost could have written a separate book around,” he said.
Bristol himself serves as the latest chapter in Fort Worth’s connections to the parks system. His family lived in Weatherford when he was a child and often visited relatives in Fort Worth.
Although Bristol spent most of his life in Austin, he and his wife, Gretchen Denny, decided to sell their home there and move full time to Fort Worth in 2013. Conservation advocacy is a family affair. Bristol’s daughter, Jennifer L. Bristol, contributed a chapter on the role of women in the Texas state park system’s development and is the author of a forthcoming book on women in conservation.
After a stint on the National Parks Foundation board, Bristol spent two decades fighting to ensure that sporting goods sales tax ended up in the coffers of Texas Parks and Wildlife. The 1993 law allowed up to 94% of that revenue to go to parks, but just 40% was allocated for that purpose over the span of 20 years, according to the Texas Tribune.
Under Bristol’s leadership, the Texas Coalition for Conservation rallied nearly 80 organizations to support a constitutional amendment permanently allocating sporting goods sales tax revenue to the parks system and the Texas Historical Commission. Voters approved the amendment in 2019 with 88% support.
Beyond detailing the history of state park development, Bristol wanted to share a playbook for building public support and leading a coalition of groups with competing ideologies.
“I thought it was important enough to leave a trail for somebody else who wanted to start a campaign of how to do it, when to do it,” he said. “To my knowledge, no one has ever done that before. If we’re already at page 400, we might as well include the polling and campaign information.”
Bristol will spend the next several months promoting the book at events across the state, including celebrations of the Texas Parks and Wildlife centennial and the San Antonio Book Festival in April. Future events will be posted on his website.
Haley Samsel is the environmental reporter for the Fort Worth Report. You can reach them at email@example.com.
At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.