Monday, March 30, 2009
Texas County Commissioners issue burn bans which effectively stop campers from campfire camping or cooking on charcoal in state parks. I witnessed and experienced this first hand this past Spring Break weekend at McKinney Falls State Park near Austin, Texas.
See the first video here.
In order to reserve a camp site at many Texas state parks, it is necessary to book months in advance and this I did. Since Texas is a big state and has very little public land, camping in a park is what most of us are forced to do or we will have no place to camp. I booked this campsite January 20th, 2009.
Upon arrival at the Park Thursday March 26th, I was informed there was an "extreme burn ban" in effect and no campfires or charcoal cooking or fires would be allowed under heavy penalty. I informed the Rangers that I had checked the Texas Parks and Wildlife web site daily and it showed Travis County this very morning as not being under a burn ban and they said I was wrong, as they had checked it also.
I had indeed checked the website and it did not show a burn ban or I would have cancelled my reservation, as camping without a campfire is just not the same thing and evidence of this attitude was everywhere in the park – which was basically empty.
It had been pouring rain in the park for hours and I asked if the ban would be lifted because it was so wet and I was once again informed that this decision had been made the previous Tuesday and it would be Tuesday March 31st before the county commissioner would review the ban.
I was outraged to say the least and once again felt like our Texas government was working against us law-abiding families. The pervasive strong-arm of government interference once again is used to keep anyone from making a decision based on changing conditions. Why in the world would a blanket burn ban be used to stop a family from cooking on charcoal in a State park? The hundreds of picnic tables and charcoal burners were vacant Friday and Saturday each time we walked by them on the many trails.
My pile of hardwood hauled 200 miles from Baytown lay unburned at our screen shelter and I was informed it would be removed by park staff, rather than leave it for the next camper.
See the second video here:
The solution is simple and it involves understanding the nature of families and camping/picnicking and a governing official with enough brass to take this bull by the horns and correct it.
One: The Park superintendent should always over ride the County Commissioner on burn bans, even if it takes the Governor of Texas to step in. Camping and campfires are synonymous, just as picnics and charcoal grills (folks are just not going to tote a propane stove 300 yards to get to a picnic table, but they will tote charcoal, etc.). We must be allowed to have them, so how is this accomplished in a safe manner?
Two: Engineering controls need to be implemented so that fires are always contained. Better fire rings with wind screens and charcoal braziers which do not allow the wind to whip through them are good starting points.
Three: Campers should be educated on safe and acceptable campfires and each camp site should be randomly checked by park staff on acceptable practices. An evening 10 minute camp fire class could be held at the pavilion by park staff/volunteers to facilitate safe camping is an option.
Four: CO2 or Class A fire extinguishers could be made available for campers or at least water hoses for those who wish a campfire.
The bottom line is simple. Campers and picnickers should always be put ahead of County burn bans. The empty parking lots and vacant picnic tables told the sad story. I want to add that my complaint is not with Park staff, but their compliance with the blanket burn ban decisions which effectively ruin camping and picnickers from enjoying the park to the fullest.
I talked to a Park employee for about 20 minutes and we reviewed one of the videos I made and I asked if anything they saw on the video was inaccurate and they said “No”. I am taking this all the way to the Governor of Texas to get this changed and I ask everyone to write, call or do what they can to join me.
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