With the future of a local state park in jeopardy, local residents met with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission at a public hearing Tuesday to discuss the Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park.
Residents met with the agency’s commissioners at the Mission Event Center and addressed the future of the park, which would be affected by President Donald Trump’s border wall.
Last summer, The Texas Tribune reported that the Bentsen State Park could close if the proposed border wall ends up going through the park after a $1.6 billion spending bill was approved which included the construction of 33 miles of barrier in Hidalgo and Starr County.
The 25 miles of border wall construction planned for Hidalgo County consists of an 18-foot-tall fence built on the river levees and a 150-foot-wide “enforcement zone” along the wall.
Most of the park is located south of the levee wall, meaning that the Bentsen State Park would not be operational if the wall is built.
“We’ve endeavored for some time now to work with U.S. Customs and Border Patrol to see if there’s other solutions besides building a wall right through the northern part of the park,” TPW Chairman Ralph H. Duggins told the crowd. “So far our pleas and suggestions have not been met with any type of positive response, but we want to assure you this is not something we’ve sat back and done nothing with.”
Among the suggestions offered by the agency include an increase in technology and manpower over a physical wall and reducing the enforcement zone by half, Duggins said.
“I don’t think we know yet what will happen to the park until we see what ends up being constructed, but we’d prefer there not be a wall,” Duggins said.
The park, which is currently the headquarters for the National Birding Center, was sold to the State Parks Board for $1 in 1944 by the family of the late Democratic U.S. Sen. Lloyd Bentsen on the condition that the 587 acres be used “solely for public park purposes.”
The park houses more than 325 species of birds and other wildlife, drawing nearly 30,000 visitors in 2016.
The public hearing consisted on presentations from several departments within the agency and remarks from state Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, who called the Valley “one of the safest places in the United States.”
After the presentations, attendees were invited to speak during the public comments section. A total of 30 speakers went up to the podium, all of them expressing support for the park.
“I’m not a great public speaker but the park means a lot to me,” Jennifer Sigler-a Mission resident-tearfully said. “My family has been going there for years. I know the park is visited and enjoyed by so many people. Please don’t give up the fight. It needs to continue.”
Among the speakers was Pam Haven, granddaughter of Lloyd Bentsen. She praised supporters of the park and reminded the commission of why the park was opened in the first place.
“We’re all concerned about a legacy left to this community and it meant so much when the park opened. But if the wall goes up, is it still a park,” Haven asked. “I realize we need security, but I hope there is a way that we can managed to preserve the park.”
Commissioner Bill Jones and other agency commissioners swore to continue protecting the park and urged residents to contact State Sen. Ted Cruz and John Cornyn, to voice their thoughts on the park.
“Whatever happens, we’re still committed to the park and we will do whatever we can to make sure it is cared for under any circumstances,” Jones said. “That’s your agency at work, we are committed to doing whatever it takes to make that park enjoyable for you.”
A town hall against the border wall is being planned by several local organizations Sunday, Nov. 11 at 2 p.m. across the McAllen Border Patrol station at 3000 W. Military HWY.