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EXCLUSIVE: Public Access to Chinati Mountains State Natural Area Done Deal

photograph by Charlie Llewellin via Creative Commons. The cliffs of the Chinati Mountains rise above Pinto Canyon, in southern Presidio County.

The Chinati Mountains State Natural Area in south Presidio County finally has public access, according to Corky Kulhmann, senior project manager for land conservation for Texas Parks and Wildlife. This is news given exclusively to KRTS.

For eight years, Kulhmann and his team have been working to gain public access to 39,000 acres donated to create a new state park.

"But that’s been blocked by either no funds or landowners changing their minds or just other priorities with state parks, as far as money could go when we had money," Kulhmann explains. "It turned out a lot of the lands here are just a bowl of spaghetti.”

The four tracts of land needed to open a public road to the park were not straight-forward deals. There was the family that wouldn’t sell to the state and instead sold to a developer, who then sold back to the state; a landowner that had to be tracked down in Florida through Facebook; and a deal negotiated with Presidio County after a default on taxes gave them the land, says Kulhmann.

The last piece of the puzzle has Kulhmann’s surveyors working with the state of Texas General Land Office to purchase land from them.

“This whole deal has taken three or four surveyors, funding from more sources than I care to talk about,” Kulhman explains. “The tract from the gentleman from Florida was actually funded by King Land and Water so I need to thank James King for that.”

But before you throw your hiking gear in the back of your truck, you should know the park isn’t quite open yet.

“There was a lot of excitement about getting access to the park,” he says. “That part’s been taken care of but that’s just the first step of getting a park open. Now we have to come up with a use plan then the biggest things is going to be funding: getting the funds to open this park.”

The Parks and Wildlife Department will need to have at least one public meeting to get input from the citizens of Presidio County on how the public would like to see the land will be developed.  The Chinati Mountains State Natural Area will never been a National Park-like experience.

“It will be a natural experience,” Kulhmann says. “It will be an outback, rugged, primitive experience. Probably as good a primitive experience you’re going to have in Texas.”

Kulhmann said elk are on the land, as well as mule deer, javalinas, even bears. When asked to describe what the terrain looks like he said, “it’s hard to describe. You’re asking me to describe what a sunset looks like.”

Beyond the unspoiled beauty, the new park means a potential financial boon for Presidio County.

“The economic impact a park brings to an area is substantial, it’s more than a lot of people realize,” he says. “Granted taking some of the land is taking it off the tax roles, but when people come here they’re going to the grocery stores and going to the convenience stores, and going to the gas stations and spending money here. It’s a win-win situation.”

“As Texas grows our recreational opportunities have to grow with it. It’s our future.”

-Paige Phelps