Let’s bring back the County Parks Board

Published 12:38 am Wednesday, January 9, 2019

By Dale Parish

Hurricane Rita blew down trees throughout Claiborne West Park, some of which broke handrails on the pedestrian bridge over Cow Bayou.  The western side of the bridge was boarded up and the bridge has been taken over by vines now. In the years since Orange County residents have had no access to the Nature Preserve on the east side of the bayou, It is now visited primarily by members of the hunting club that surrounds it, putting out their deer feeders and blinds.  The fences there have deteriorated to the point that only a surveyor could tell where the park ends and the hunting club begins.


The Sabine-Neches Chapter of Texas Master Naturalist would like to re-clear the nature interpretive trails on the east side of Cow Bayou in Claiborne West Park but are unable to do so until the pedestrian bridge is reopened.

The canoe basin that was constructed by the Orange County Drainage District has silted in and the wharves that were built there by the Young Adult Conservation Corps have washed up on the bank and rotted away. A tourist opportunity is being lost there.  The Big Thicket Association got a Texas Paddling Trail declared by Texas Parks & Wildlife Department in Orange County, but the point of departure point is from a Beaumont City Park, where the Neches River Rally launched many canoes and kayaks into Orange County this past September.  Orange County got no real publicity from it, although it was a fund-raising success for BTA. We could have a Texas Paddling Trail from Claiborne West to Bridge City to draw tourists.

Additionally, Orange County’s contract with the state for providing the money to develop Claiborne West Park with Land and Water Conservation Funding guaranteed that Orange County would maintain those facilities available to the public for a period of 50 years. By neglecting to repair the bridge, we are in default and are jeopardizing any future parks funding from TPWD by that violation.

When the east side of the park was designated as a nature preserve, the Texas Forest Service assisted in performing control burning to suppress underbrush and reduce the fuel load in the park.  No control burning has taken place now for forty years, and the underbrush has reclaimed much of the nature preserve.

All these improvements were put in under the Orange Board of Park Commissioners, under the supervision of the Orange County Commissioners Court, who adopted the state law in 1977 that allows the creation of a County Parks Board to supervise and manage Orange County Parks.  The Parks Board gave Commissioners Court relief from the details of managing the parks and gave the county seven dedicated citizens to pursue funding, improvements, and management of the parks. It was a win-win situation, where the Parks Board met monthly and submitted the minutes of their meeting to Commissioners Court for approval.  When the Commissioners Court felt that they needed to steer actions of the parks board, they simply accepted specific actions from their approval of the Parks Board Minutes. This worked well for many years, but after about 20 years, the Commissioners Court just stopped appointing Parks Board members to their two-year terms, and the parks board died without those appointments.

The Commissioners Court now supervises 119 budget fund numbers in Orange County, 22 of which are the budgets of elected officials, leaving 97 department budgets nipping at the Commissioners for time and attention.  The loudest squeaking wheels get the grease.  Keeping the grass mowed and trash cans emptied has been the only priority lately.  With a new Commissioners Court, we are looking forward to strengthening the attention needed for long-term planning for Orange County Parks. 

Orange County Commissioners Court should appoint a new Board of Parks Commissioners this February when the law specifies appointments should be made.  This new Parks Board can then start assessing the state of parks in Orange County and working with the budget that the County Commissioners gives them, pursue further grants, enter into agreements with other agencies to reopen the Cow Bayou pedestrian bridge, refurbish the canoe basin, make long-range maintenance plans and solicit input from the public—the things that the Commissioners Court has neither the time nor the resources to do.  Improvements won’t happen overnight—we all know that the county is cash-strapped, but delegating the future of the parks to interested citizens would take a load off the County Commissioners and start the way to improving recreational opportunities for Orange County Citizens. Thirteen years is too long for that bridge to be closed.