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Texas State Parks Campaigning For More Visitors And Money

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AUSTIN (AP) - Texas parks received fewer visitors because of wildfires and drought this year, leading to a $4.6 million deficit, state officials said Tuesday at the launch of a campaign to encourage the public to visit more often and donate much needed funds.

Carter Smith, executive director of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, said officials hope the campaign will raise enough money to prevent the closure of parks or reduced hours. Officials scheduled a series of news conference at parks around the state to get their message out.

Visitor fees provide about half of the parks’ $69 million operating budget. Record heat and drought and several devastating wildfires have dropped visitation and revenue by as much as 25 percent, Smith said.

Texans also can donate directly to the agency or give $5 or more when they renew their vehicle registration in 2012 under a new program that begins Jan. 1. State lawmakers estimated that program would bring in about $1.6 million, which Smith says is included in the overall $4.6 million budget gap.

“This is the amount we need to raise to help keep state parks open. We want to alert people now while there is still time to help,” Smith said.

Texas has 94 state parks and historic sites that draw nearly 8 million visitors annually. Three of them, Davis Mountains, Possum Kingdom and Bastrop state parks, were severely damaged by wildfires, but all three have been reopened to visitors.

Many parks have also lifted burn bans that had been prompted by the drought and wildfires.

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)