As many of you know, the primary mission of Government Canyon State Natural Area is to conserve and manage our natural and cultural resources. Although the resources come first at Government Canyon, we do also have a secondary mission of providing sustainable access to outdoor recreation. As a result, we continually strive to maintain a balance between these two concurrent, potentially conflicting, mandates. Over the past several years, Government Canyon has experienced significant increases in visitation, culminating in record crowds in the Spring of 2016. This record level of demand for outdoor recreational opportunities threatens to offset the former balance between resource protection and recreation. The unprecedented visitation rates have led to long vehicular lines at entry points, congested interior roadways and trails, and limited parking —factors which can negatively affect user experience. Moreover, these same conditions strain park infrastructure and staff/volunteers and potentially compromise the integrity of our protected resources…with noted instances of increased litter, human and pet feces alongside trails, vegetation loss and increased erosion. Government Canyon is not alone as many other State Parks and State Natural Areas across Texas are experiencing similar crowding and negative impacts on the resources.
For these reasons, Government Canyon, along with many other sites around the state, have begun to implement “visitation calming” through capacity closures. These closures are currently determined by analyzing available parking, number of vehicles that have entered and the number of visitors. Once a closure is implemented, the Natural Area will close for a period of time (typically three hours) to allow for thinning of crowds and to ease some of the impacts mentioned above. Please know that, as a Natural Area, our goal is NOT to maximize visitation by “packing them in” and continuously filling all parking spaces. Our goals with capacity closures are to reduce the impacts to the resources (natural, cultural, infrastructure and staff/volunteers) as well as to provide a quality experience for you, the visitor.
As with any new process, we will continue to evaluate and fine-tune our methods. In fact, Texas State Parks has recently embarked on a statewide initiative to develop additional tools and methods to help site managers across the state gauge impacts and implement capacity closures when warranted.
Your patience, understanding and support of these efforts to protect Government Canyon State Natural are greatly appreciated. As always, if you have any questions or concerns about anything we do at Government Canyon, please do not hesitate to give us a call.