The Williamson County Parks Department reached a milestone in March, celebrating 15 years of providing parks, trails and open spaces to the residents of Williamson County. The Parks Department invites the public to help celebrate their 15th anniversary by sharing photos from County parks and trails. Park lovers are invited to post a photo to Twitter or Facebook using the hashtag #WilCoParks15. The County will select some photos to share on its @wilcogov Facebook and Twitter pages.
The idea of County parks and trails and of setting aside quality, pristine lands for conservation, preservation, and enjoyment by present and future generations got its start in Williamson County in 1997. Voters approved a park bond issue that allowed the County to commission a countywide inventory of park facilities to further assess recreational opportunities in the cities and in the unincorporated areas. The bond issue also allowed the County to search for possible park land acquisitions. In 2000, another park bond issue was overwhelmingly approved by voters, which provided additional funds for more park land acquisition and development.
Public support, fast growth, and the changing environment of the area brought County leadership to recognize the need for responsive, equitable, and high-quality park and recreation services for the residents of the County. In response to this need, County leadership adopted the very first Comprehensive Park Master Plan on November 27, 2001, to address long term park, trail, and open space planning. County leadership understood that parks and recreation services are a key element in the creation of appealing, wholesome, and livable communities that enhance economic well-being and health and wellness. Williamson County updated the 2001 master plan in 2008 and currently is updating it again. Open houses are scheduled April 2, 4, 11, and 12 so the public can provide their input on the plan. For information on the open houses, go to www.wilco.org/parks.
Park bond issues, park land acquisition, and the 2001 Comprehensive Park Master Plan all played a part in the creation of the Williamson County Parks Department. They also helped in the County’s acquisition and development of the County’s first park, Southwest Williamson County Regional Park, which opened in March of 2003.
Vision for the newly created Parks Department focused on parks, trails, and natural open spaces that sought to balance stewardship and development with the ecology and the natural resources of the land. This vision was carried out by the first parks director, Jim Rodgers. Rodgers wanted to distinguish the Williamson County Parks Department by focusing on larger, regional parks that provided children with an opportunity to be out in nature, even if they were just a few blocks or miles from their home.
In 2006, voters again approved a park bond that would fund the purchase of two more large tracts of land for future county parks -- River Ranch County Park and Blackland Heritage County Park. Rodgers’ vision was for County parks to model state parks with large open spaces and natural settings. City parks already provided structured recreational parks and sports fields. The desire was to compliment and not overlap.
In 2011, the second parks director, Randy Bell, fully embraced that vision. Bell was a perfect fit for Williamson County having spent 27 years working for the State Parks Division of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
Voters continued to agree with the Parks Department vision and approved more park bonds in 2013. These funds were allocated among renovating the Expo Center, developing parks and trails, enhancing existing parks, and acquiring additional park lands.
Over the last 15 years, the Williamson County Parks Department has continued with the vision that was established in 2001, and manifested in 2003 with the County’s first park. Today, in 2018, the department’s vision of building community pride, of adding quality to life for citizens to participate in recreational pursuits that create positive and lasting memories, of optimizing health and wellness through active living, and of stewardship of our natural, cultural, and historic resources for use and enjoyment of present and future generations continues.
In response to public support and forward thinking County leadership, the Williamson County Parks Department has expanded through the years by adding new park locations, extending trails, and by providing facilities such as splash pads, playscapes, picnic pavilions, and campgrounds.
Williamson County now has four operational County parks -- Southwest Williamson County Regional Park, Twin Lakes Park, Berry Springs Park and Preserve, and Champion Park. In addition, the County has the newly renovated Williamson County Exposition Center which hosts a multitude of indoor and outdoor events from rodeos, equestrian and livestock shows, to banquets, and arts and crafts shows. In total, the Parks Department, along with the Williamson County Conservation Foundation, cares for more than 3,500 acres of land.
The Williamson County Parks Department also is responsible for more than 27 miles of hiking, biking and running trails, and will add approximately 12 more miles of hiking and equestrian trails after River Ranch County Park opens in summer 2019. Phase 1 of River Ranch County Park will include a new park entrance from Bagdad Road, and the department anticipates a park headquarters, restrooms, picnic areas, an outdoor education / interpretive center, hiking trails, equestrian trails, improved campsites, and primitive campsites. A sixth County park, Blackland Heritage County Park, awaits future development.
To learn more about Williamson County Parks, go to www.wilco.org/parks.