The Richard K. Mellon Foundation, through the Conservation Fund, donated the Christmas Mountains to the State of Texas in 1991 for use as or inclusion in a nature park, wildlife refuge, recreational area or similarly designated use area. The land was put up for auction in 2007 by State Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson because the property was too difficult to maintain. Poaching and invasive species of plants were degrading the area and the state did not want to provide the money to maintain the vast tract. The gift deed required the Conservation Fund’s approval before conveying the property to any party other than the federal or state parks agencies. Patterson, however, decided the provision was not enforceable. The winning bid was $652,000 ($70/acre), but the sale was canceled on September 18, 2007 after the state said a property map was inaccurate.
The National Park Service offered to take the property and incorporate it into Big Bend National Park. Patterson blocked that option because hunting is not allowed in National Parks, and he desired to maintain hunting rights on the property. However, under intense public pressure, the sale of the land was delayed to give the Park Service time to make a bid. Eventually Patterson backed off his stance and indicated he might allow the transaction to proceed. Also, an amendment to the Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility, and Disclosure Act of 2009 lifted the prohibition on firearms in National Parks, which may further reduce barriers to the Christmas Mountains becoming part of the National Park System.
In September 2011, the Texas General Land Office announced it was turning over control of the Christmas Mountains to the Texas State University System to conserve and use as an outdoor wilderness classroom and laboratory. Hunting is allowed in the Christmas Mountains.
Learn more about the history of the Christmas Mountains here.