Texas contains 191,228 miles of streams, creeks, and rivers, including 40,194 miles of perennially flowing waters. The state maintains public navigability laws that ensure the right of paddlers, anglers, tubers, and other river recreationists to wade, paddle, or float many of Texas rivers. However, private ownership of riverbanks significantly inhibits public river access in the state. The preponderance for privately-owned river banks reflects general land ownership trends in Texas, a state where less than five percent of the landscape is in public ownership.
To enhance public access opportunities and encourage nature-oriented recreation on Texas rivers, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department established the ever-expanding Texas Paddling Trails Network, which currently consists of more than 70 trails. The Texas Paddling Trails Network designation promotes existing public river access areas that offer safe and reliable access and family-friendly paddling opportunities. Many of the access areas contained within the Texas Paddling Trails Network are located at city, county, and state parks and public boat launches. Texas Paddling Trails have increased public awareness of river access and recreation opportunities, and enhanced the outdoor recreation economy for many local communities. A recent economic impact study of the statewide Texas Paddling Trails Network conservatively estimated an annual economic impact of over $160 million dollars.
Despite the improved river access opportunities afforded to Texans through the Texas Paddling Trails Network, river access continues to be limited because of the nature of land ownership in the state. However, Texas landowners recently became part of the solution for expanding public river access. In the year 2000, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department began leasing private lands for public access to bank and wade fishing opportunities within the Guadalupe River trout fishery. In 2004, an economic impact study indicated that for every dollar spent by the department on these public access leases and trout stocking, $4.75 of economic value was generated for the local economy.
In 2012, the department significantly expanded its use of private lands leases as a tool to enhance public river access. Funded through a competitive grant awarded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the department invested $150,000 to lease private lands for public access to bank, wade, and kayak fishing on Texas rivers. This investment supported seven multi-year river access leases on the Brazos (2), Colorado, Guadalupe (3), and Neches rivers, and resulted in creation of the department's River Access and Conservation Areas Program.
In 2014, the department was awarded $775,000 in competitive grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation to further support river access leases. This allowed the department to expand the program to include 19 multi-year river access leases on Brazos (3), Colorado (4), Devils (2), Guadalupe (4), Llano, Neches, Nueces, Sabine, San Marcos, and South Llano rivers. The two newest leases opened on the
Devils River in spring 2017, and one lease recently closed on the Colorado River. Our current grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture will allow us to support the 18 active river access leases thru fall 2018.
Texas Parks and Wildlife Department continues to apply for competitive grants and seek private donations to continue the current leases beyond fall 2018 and hopefully add many more river access leases throughout the State. Limitations of the program are primarily the availability of funding and ability to locate willing landowners. Through your purchase of a Texas Rivers Conservation License Plate, you will play an important role in helping to maintain and expand public access to nature-oriented recreation on Texas rivers through the River Access and Conservation Areas Program.