For James Adams, the commute to work isn’t far. In fact, he arrives the moment he steps out of his front door and into 4,000-plus acres of rugged wilderness.
As superintendent of the soon-to-be-opened Palo Pinto Mountains State Park—Texas’ 90th state park and the first in North Texas in over 25 years—Adams lives onsite and oversees every phase of its development.
“I like to tell folks that every day at work is a walk in the park,” he said, laughing.
Adams describes the job of a park superintendent as being similar to that of a city manager running a small city—but one with a constantly changing population. Superintendents manage the water systems, maintain fiscal responsibility and work to ensure the safety of every visitor, among countless other duties.
“Basically, we’re ultimately responsible for everything that occurs inside the park,” he said, noting that it’s something his master’s in public administration from UTA has well-prepared him for. “It was all tremendously helpful, from governmental relations to human resources to law classes to public budgeting. I’ve used all of that.”
For the last five years of the park’s development, Adams has led a team of subject-matter experts, including architects, engineers and resource specialists. Together, they’re focused on conserving the nature of the park, respecting and retaining its history and ensuring the end result is a park that will stand the test of time.
“Most of the park looks substantially similar to how it has for the past 100 years,” he said. “There has not been a lot of development here, which is great. It’s like stepping back in time to an extent and seeing wild Texas and the Wild West.”
Adams and his team have found evidence of that robust history in the process of getting the park ready for visitors, including a prehistoric fire pit that dates back roughly 3,500 years, a Paleo-Indian point that is about 10,000 years old, and a nearly intact rock oven that was built by railroad workers in 1880 to feed the masses when the Texas and Pacific Railway was being built.
“The occupation and use of this land has spanned millennia,” he said. “It’s really exciting to see evidence of that out here.”
Every historically significant find is cataloged. Some are archived, and some will likely be kept for display in the visitor center. In the case of the fire pit, half was excavated and archived, while the other half was covered back up and left in its natural state, preserved for future generations to discover.
“That way, if future archaeologists find it, they will find it in the same context it existed originally,” he said.
When the park opens late this year, visitors will be able to enjoy hiking, camping, fishing, stargazing and other outdoor activities amid stunning vistas overlooking sheltered canyons and a 90-acre lake. The park is located near Strawn, about 75 miles west of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, and is projected to receive 75,000-100,000 visitors a year.
Adams, for one, can’t wait to welcome his fellow Texans inside.
“It’s just a beautiful part of the state,” he said. “People don’t realize how beautiful it is until they get here the first time. It’s exciting to be able to share that with folks.”