Land Lease will be Terminated; Public Access to Fairfield Lake to Cease
AUSTIN— After more than 50 years of public use and outdoor recreation by Texas families, Fairfield Lake State Park will permanently close to the public Feb. 28. Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) was notified by its lessor, Vistra, the owner of the site, that the land lease for Fairfield Lake State Park was terminated due to the impending sale of the property. Texas State Parks has 120 days to vacate the state park before it is turned over to the new owner, Todd Interests.
“Losing Fairfield Lake State Park would represent a significant step backward in our efforts to expand outdoor recreational opportunities for Texas’ booming population,” said Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission Chairman Arch “Beaver” Aplin III. “This loss is especially unfathomable at a time when we are celebrating 100 years of state parks, yet absent any cooperation or interest in working with us from the developer, we have no other options. Rest assured Commissioners remain committed to working with Todd Interests to maintain this important public asset and grow outdoor recreation in Texas.”
“This is an unprecedented loss of a state treasure for Texans,” said David Yoskowitz Ph.D., Executive Director of TPWD. “The demand for outdoor recreation exceeds supply in Texas, so losing even one state park is a set-back for all of us who enjoy publicly accessible lands. We have worked diligently to find a solution that would allow TPWD to purchase part, or all of the property, and it is unfortunate that an agreement could not be reached at this time with Vistra or the buyer.”
Legislative leadership strongly supports helping TPWD 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.
“Today’s heartbreaking announcement of the closing of Fairfield Lake State Park is a tremendous loss for Freestone County and all Texans who enjoy our state’s unique parklands,” said Sen. Charles Schwertner. “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.”
“I have said repeatedly, Texas cannot lose a state park to development,” said Sen. Charles Perry, Chairman of the Senate Water, Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee. “Fairfield Lake State Park is a treasure that Texas residents have been visiting for 47 years to experience its beauty and recreational activities. The park cannot be replaced. Some 80,000 hardworking Texans will lose a place of solitude, sport fishing and priceless memory making if the park is closed. We must make every effort possible to keep the land as a state park.”
“The recent announcement about the closure of Fairfield State Park is a huge disappointment,” said Rep. Trent Ashby, Chairman of the House Culture, Recreation and Tourism Committee. “The prospect of a developer taking this treasure out of our state park system is deeply troubling, especially at a time when both the Governor and members of the Legislature have called for the expansion of state parks across the state,” he added. “I plan to work with members of my committee to determine how we can prevent this practice from occurring in the future.”
“I am very disappointed to get this announcement,” said Rep. Ken King, Former Chairman of the House Culture, Recreation and Tourism Committee. “I strongly encourage Vistra and the potential buyer to continue working with the Legislature and the department for a better solution for all Texans. Keeping all of our state parks open to the public is, and will remain, a top priority for me.”
“Despite great efforts by the community, local elected officials and Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission, Fairfield Lake State Park appears to have been sold to a developer and now will be closed in the coming weeks,” said Rep. Angelia Orr. “This treasured piece of Texas has blessed our local families and countless visitors for generations, and losing it is hard to comprehend. I join park lovers in Freestone County and across the state in expressing my sincere disappointment in hearing this news. As a result, we are now working on legislation to prevent this from ever occurring in any of our other beautiful state parks going forward.”
Beginning on Tuesday, Feb. 28, visitors will no longer have access to Fairfield Lake State Park. During this time, park staff will remove equipment and relocate staff members. Closure of the park also means removal of access to the two public boat ramps and a fishing pier on Fairfield Lake, a popular bass fishery. Public recreation on the lake will cease following the closure of the park, and TPWD will no longer manage the fishery resources. TPWD will begin contacting visitors to cancel upcoming overnight reservations for dates after Feb. 27, which will immediately impact more than 2,700 people.
“I am extremely disheartened that Fairfield Lake State Park can no longer provide the outdoor fun and memories it has created for families in the local community and across Texas for nearly 50 years,” said Rodney Franklin, Director of Texas State Parks. “I would like to thank the community, partners, visitors and all the employees for their hard work and unwavering support to bring incredible recreation and outstanding service to the state of Texas for so many years.”
Fairfield Lake State Park was acquired in 1971 by lease from Texas Utilities and opened to the public in 1976. The park, named after 2,400-acre Fairfield Lake, saw an average 80,000 visitors a year and was known for activities such as horseback riding, family reunions, paddling, fishing, camping and hiking.
The park’s recent lease with Vistra was extended until Fall 2022, contingent upon the sale of the property after the energy company closed the coal power plant located on the lake in 2018. TPWD sought to purchase the state park site, but Vistra would not consider a sale of just the parkland. TPWD also hoped to partner with a potential buyer or possibly acquire the property for continued operations. The new owner does not intend to use the property as a state park.
TPWD will continue to work to buy and potentially expand the park.