Sour Lake residents, Kathy Smartt and her son Jimmy, traveled to Washington D.C. in June to advocate for passage of the National Park Service Legacy Restoration Act.
The bill calls for developing and dedicating funds “to remedy the national parks’ crumbling infrastructure,” Kathy Smartt said.
The Smartts were part of the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) contingent to visit nine congressional offices introducing lawmakers to the merits of the bill.
“Years of budgets cuts and deferred infrastructure spending have created a maintenance backlog in most parks,” Kathy said.
The contingent says the solution is to direct a portion of existing mineral lease royalties collected from resource extraction on public lands to the backlog.
Most of the congressional meetings involved legislative staff although the Smartts did meet with U.S. Rep. Will Hurd of the 23rd Texas Congressional District and Rep. Lamar Smith of the 21st Texas Congressional District.
“It was fascinating,” she said, speaking to legislators and their aides. “I think we made a difference pretty much, educating people about the Big Thicket.”
Of course, everyone knows the big parks, but the smaller ones like the Big Thicket National Preserve tend to get overlooked.
The need is not any less – half of the overdue repairs are for roads and bridges in national parks – limiting public access, threaten public safety, and spoiling the visitor experience.
It’s a problem that hits close to home for Kathy as President of the Big Thicket Association and a small business owner in Sour Lake.
A recent National Park Service report said that “in 2016, visitors to the Big Thicket National Preserve spent over $12 million dollars in local communities near the park.”
The group explained the benefits of the Big Thicket to the region and the invaluable research currently being conducted by the Thicket of Diversity at Preserve’s Field Research Station.
Jimmy Smartt, a major in Political Science at the University of Texas, told personal tales of his growing up in the Big Thicket with his grandmother, Rose Ann Jordan, growing up in the woods.
Inspired by the region’s unique biological and cultural heritage, the Smartt family encourages support for the National Park Service Legacy Restoration Act to preserve the Big Thicket and all national parks for years to come.