East Texas Community Loses Major Tourist Attraction - KLTV.com - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

1/20/06 Palestine

East Texas Community Loses Major Tourist Attraction

For almost 30 years, tourists have taken the Texas State Railroad from Palestine to Rusk. Now, the Palestine depot will be shut down when the railroad opens in March because of state budget cuts. City and county officials say by doing this the state will be taking away a part of their history.

People from around the world travel to Palestine every year to ride on the historic Texas State Railroad. Residents say to them the words Palestine and railroad go hand in hand.

"So many of our businesses are tied to the railroad," said Kathi Masonheimer, Downtown Merchants Association. "They are named after the railroad. They market the railroad constantly." City officials say the railroad generates about $5 million every year, but now the state has decided to cut funding.

"The funding for the parks division is down and the expenses are up," said Robert Crossman III, General Superintendent of Texas Parks and Wildlife. "The price of diesel fuel has gone up tremendously, electricity, natural gas. All of those things have raised costs." That's why Texas Parks and Wildlife was forced to shut down the Palestine railroad depot. Palestine residents say it's unfair.

"We do think it' short sided," said Dan Davis, member of the Palestine Tourism Board. "Mainly because of what Palestine contributes to the railroad promotion." The city of Palestine says it still has hope.

"We hope that a better decision will be made as far as allowing a certain number of runs, even if it's not as many as we have had," said Susan Cottle-Leonard, Palestine Director of Tourism. "We definitely need to have a presence of a train running from the Palestine station. It's so important to us." If the decision stands, Palestine will have to find another way to get tourists to visit their city.

Palestine has been known as a railroad town ever since the train was built in 1872. Texas Parks and Wildlife says the reason the depot was closed in Palestine and not Rusk, is because the maintenance is located in Rusk.

Molly Reuter, reporting. mreuter@kltv.com

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