Texas is losing a state park this year. Fairfield Lake State Park is slipping into the history books. The State of Texas and its agents, like the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) lease land from private property owners sometimes for the short-term, like hunting leases, and sometimes for the long-term for up to 100 years. The state can lease land for agricultural use, energy use, and, in the case of Fairfield Lake State Park, recreational use.
The TPWD first leased the Fairfield State Park from a conglomerate of electric utility companies, and then Vistra Corp. (NYSE: VST) for 50 years in 1971 and opened the park in 1976. Vistra notified the TPWD that they were selling 5,000 acres, including the state park acreage and Fairfield Lake in 2021.
Is Fairfield Lake Closing?
Yes, Fairfield Lake State Park closed on February 28, 2023. Vistra gave the TPWD 120 days from February 13, 2023, to move out. Fairfield State Park staff are canceling upcoming camping reservations, removing equipment, and relocating to other state parks. Fairfield Lake is the largest privately owned lake in Texas.
Unfortunately, the Vistra lease with the TPWD was only for 50 years. The Texas Power and Light Company (TP&L) constructed a dam on Big Brown Creek that created Fairfield Lake in 1969. The Big Brown Power Plant used the lake for a cooling reservoir. TP&L completed construction in 1969, and the plant began operations in 1971.
Vistra shuttered its coal power plant on the property in 2018 for economic reasons and announced it would sell Fairfield Lake and 5,000 acres of surrounding land. The lake and property are under contract to sell to Todd Interests, a Dallas-based company. Todd Interests plans to develop multimillion dollar homes and a private golf course.
Is Fairfield Lake State Park for Sale?
No, technically, Vistra has sold Fairfield Lake State Park, pending Todd Industries “under contract” stipulations. Texas Representative Angelia Orr filed a bill on February 14, 2023, that would give Texas the power to acquire the land through eminent domain. However, a bill must have support to get to the House floor for a vote, then the Senate to pass it into law.
Fairfield Lake State Park has hosted millions of visitors since 1976. In 2022, the park greeted 82,000 visitors. Heavyweight players in the Texas legislature, the TPWD, NGOs, and community associations have tried in earnest to make a deal with Vistra, to no avail. In the slightest chance that the sale does not go through, negotiations could continue to save the park and lake, but that is not likely to happen.
Who Bought Fairfield State Park?
Technically, Fairfield State Park is not for sale, but rather it is under contract to be sold. The term “under contract” means a seller has accepted a buyer’s offer to purchase a property. When a property is under contract, there are stipulations, like the discovery process before a criminal trial in the justice system where the prosecution turns over all known evidence to the defense. When under contract, the buyer is conducting appraisals, inspections, etc. Certain contingencies must be met, or the sale can be canceled.
Todd Industries, an Euless-based real estate company, is under contract to buy Fairfield Lake and Fairfield State Park. Todd Industries acquires, develops, and redevelops real estate. Dunn & Bradstreet lists Todd Industries’ key players as Shawn Todd, partner, Patrick Todd, managing partner, and Phillip Todd, partner.
Todd Industries is a Fortune 500 company and established itself in 1990. The company reports a disposition of over 1.5 billion dollars in real estate on its website. As a part of this, Vistra leased approximately 1,800 acres of its property to the TPWD rent-free. The TPWD was not able to raise the funds to purchase the state park property when it went on the market.
According to its website, of the ten past projects and four current projects, Todd Industries developed or is developing, 13 are city complexes and high-rise buildings, with only one upscale residential development in Virginia. As of this writing, realty broker, Hortenstine Ranch Company, reports the current March 10, 2023, Vistra/Todd Industries contract status:
- ID: 22652
- Status: Under Contract
- Price: $110,550,000
- Acres: 5,025±
- Price Per Acre: $22,000
- Type: Ranches, Recreational Land, Undeveloped Land, Lakefront
- Address: 123 State Park Road 64
- City, State: Fairfield, Texas
- County: Freestone
- ZIP Code: 75840
- Lat/Long: 31.7626, -96.0916
Will Fairfield Lake State Park Re-Open?
Texas Senator Schwertner, R-Georgetown, filed Senate Bill 1656, which would allow the state to take ownership of the 1,800-acre park via eminent domain and reopen it to the public. Representative Orr’s bill (R-Itasca), House Bill 2332, is almost a twin to the senate bill. The 88th Texas Legislature began meeting in January 2023. Both bills are barely two pages long.
The Legislation Process
If these bills grow legs while Fairfield Lake, the state park, and Vistra’s properties are under contract, it could lead to a legal battle between the State of Texas and the private companies involved. Most Texas real estate contracts have deadlines and should have an “effective date”. As of this writing, March 10, 2023, the Secretary of the Senate has received SB 1656, which means it is waiting to be introduced.
This means a brief description of the bill, called a caption, has been read aloud while the house chamber is in session so that all the house members are aware of the bill and its subject. This is called the first reading and the point in the process where the presiding officer assigns the bill to a committee.
The committee chair decides on the bills that will be considered for a vote. During the committee process, public testimony can be permitted, but not always, when a bill is under consideration in committee. Public testimony allows citizens the opportunity to present arguments on different sides of an issue. Neither one of these bills has grown legs.
What Can Be Done
This is the time for concerned citizens to call the assigned committee members to ask for public testimony. And then, there is that “under contract” deadline. We do not know the details of the contract between Vistra and Todd Industries or the deadline date when Todd Industries must buy or cancel the contract, only the status. The wheels of a bill’s passing into law turn extremely slow indeed in any legislative process.
Yet, there appears to be a good amount of support by Republicans in the Texas Legislature. Texas Outside shares “Fun Things to Do in Texas”, respects property rights, and respects the law. We are greatly saddened by this acquisition by a private developer of a formerly public piece of Texas nature enjoyed by so many people. We sympathize with the Texas citizens who want to preserve Fairfield Lake State Park and Fairfield Lake.
Here are public quotes from state representatives on the park’s closure:
“This is an unprecedented loss of a state treasure for Texans. 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.”David Yoskowitz Ph.D., Executive Director of TPWD
“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. 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.”Representative Angelia Orr
“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.”Senator Charles Schwertner
“I am very disappointed to get this announcement. 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.”Representative Ken King, Former Chairman of the House Culture, Recreation and Tourism Committee
“I have said repeatedly, Texas cannot lose a state park to development. 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.”Sen. Charles Perry, Chairman of the Senate Water, Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee
“Texas really doesn’t have enough state park land. It’s particularly sad to see a popular park shut down at a time when we should be celebrating our state parks.”Janice Bezanson, Senior Policy Director for the Texas Conservation Alliance
Christina Sizemore is the co-administrator of the Houston Women’s Hiking group out of Houston. Houston Women’s Hiking reached out to Texas Outside and asked Texas Outside to share this information in the efforts to save Fairfield Lake State Park. Christina produced a video with links in the video description on YouTube with information on how to have your voice heard with a script on what to say to your elected Texas Legislature members.
Christina is asking you to share this video on your social media platform to promote saving Fairfield Lake State Park anyway you can. For more info, use the following contacts for information and be sure to watch the video.
- Christina Sizemore, Co-Administrator, 918-899-2077
- Bridgette Mongeo, Administrator, 713-540-3201