Granite Shoals has few champions as passionate and tenacious as 70-year-old Shirley Darlene King. For the past 30 years, she has rooted out corruption, protected and propagated precious parks, and documented the history of her beloved city.
Fond childhood memories of her time on the shores of Lake LBJ seemed to have instilled a pristine image of a community she has sought to maintain and has had to fight for over the years.
King was born Shirley Herring in San Antonio in 1952, but it wasn’t long before her heart was set on making a home in Granite Shoals. Her family moved to Austin when she was 5 years old and began taking trips to the Highland Lakes every weekend to visit her grandmother. Those early days were spent fishing and swimming in Lake LBJ and visiting Robin Hood Park. Fortuitously, King would help restore that park decades later.
Her family made the big move from Austin to Marble Falls when she was 14. She worked her first job as a waitress at Club Comanche, a swanky restaurant on the shores of Lake LBJ that has long since disappeared. According to King, Granite Shoals was more wilderness than development back then, but a few high-end places accommodated lavish lakeside lifestyles.
At 21, she married her partner in crime, Jackie Dale King, who would go on to have her back in future crusades. Shirley spoke with pride as she recalled the early years of their marriage, when she worked alongside her husband on construction projects across Texas. Eventually, they returned to Granite Shoals, built their first home, and put down roots that would grow deep.
The first time King took to the battlefield for her city, it actually wasn’t her city. In 1992, the Kings’ home was technically outside of the city limits, but Shirley caught wind of a rumored sale of one of the city parks and wanted to do something to stop it.
Taking advantage of their home’s location on RR 1431, the Kings posted an enormous sign on the side of the road that read: “DO NOT LET THEM SELL OUR PARKS. VOTE NO!”
According to Shirley, the next Granite Shoals City Council meeting was flooded with angry residents who vigorously opposed any park sale. King didn’t know it at the time, but she had thwarted the plans of Mayor Herman Williams.
In 1995, the Kings’ home went through a “hostile annexation” into the city. When Shirley voiced her opposition to the annexation, she recounted the words of Mayor Williams: “We don’t care what you want.”
While King had fought against becoming part of the city, once she was in, she went all in.
“Some people say that was the biggest mistake Herman Williams ever made,” said King, referring to her newly gained rights as a taxpayer to vote and confront City Hall.
By the time the Kings had been annexed, Shirley was not happy with the state of Granite Shoals and the nearby unincorporated areas of Burnet County.
“I had seen things going downhill,” she said. “Illegal bars and strippers had come in across the highway from us. It was in the county, and they were going to come over here until I threw the biggest fit and got all sorts of things going.”
Jackie chimed in, recalling how he found needles and burned spoons on their lawn during that time. The Kings were raising four children and felt the city was headed in the wrong direction.
Shirley turned her attention to the Burnet County Commissioners Court, where she was told commissioners couldn’t take action without an ordinance. She tracked down a template ordinance from the American Family Association with the harshest and most constitutional stance on sexually oriented businesses she could find. It wasn’t long before the commissioners passed the new rules, banishing strip clubs and illegal bars to unincorporated parts of the county.
Not long after that, King brought the same ordinance forward to the Granite Shoals council. She recalled a councilor telling her there was no point in doing all this work, that nothing was going to change.
“Nothing is impossible with God,” was her response.
She garnered enough support on the council to push the ordinance through, and to this day, strip clubs are banned in Burnet County and Granite Shoals.
But let’s get back to 1992 and the parks. After King successfully stopped park sales,she said the city stopped maintenance, letting them become overgrown and dilapidated. The city swimming pools were even filled in, tarnishing her childhood memories of Granite Shoals as a vacation mecca. She was determined to make a change.
King was one of the founding members of the Granite Shoals Parks Advisory Committee and its first secretary when Mayor Pat Crochet created it in 2000. Immediately, she and other committee members began restoring parks. Although Jackie wasn’t on the committee initially, he worked alongside Shirley as they tackled the monumental task.
The committee poured foundations, assembled playground equipment, built pavilions, and installed picnic tables. Robin Hood Park, where King played when she was 8 years old, was one of the first places to receive attention. They weren’t paid a dime, according to King, but that didn’t matter.
“It just made us feel good that we were doing good things for our community,” she said. “Something just got in me and (Jackie) that we just wanted to make our city better. This was our way of making that happen.”
She laughed, recalling that Jackie used to tease her because she didn’t even like planting flowers at home but was devoting all of her time to beautifying 19 city parks.
King would go on to serve on the Granite Shoals City Council for a total of 16 years and as chairwoman of the Parks Advisory Committee. Granite Shoals became “The City of Parks” under her leadership.
Throughout the 2000s, King wasn’t just getting her hands dirty assembling equipment and pouring foundations, she was delving into the tangled world of grant writing. In her research, she found that the city was not eligible for grants crucial to future park improvements because it did not own the mineral rights to the land beneath the parks.
Everyone said the original developers of Granite Shoals had all died, meaning it would be nearly impossible for the city to acquire the mineral rights and secure future grant funding. King didn’t buy it.
In an era before the internet was widely available and “google” didn’t mean a darn thing, King tracked down the last living developer, Max Flinchbaug. After making her pitch, Flinchbaug miraculously agreed to deed over the mineral rights to the city for free and help convince the heirs of the other developers to do the same. King returned to the Granite Shoals parks commission with the ticket to the future of city parks.
The ensuing grants the city received resulted in mass improvements that have allowed residents to take full advantage of their parkland. This culminated with the acquisition of a $500,000 grant from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department that helped develop the 131-acre Quarry Park and Granite Shoals Sports Complex. King fought for 17 years to get this grant for the city and beat out every other application in the state to do so.
However, the city’s parks were never quite safe. King said she has had to defend them at every turn. Real estate speculators, city managers, and developers have all made serious attempts to acquire or sell parks over the years. She was there every time, fighting to keep the parks free and in the hands of the people of Granite Shoals.
King is far from finished with her service to the city. As the bonafide historian of Granite Shoals, she was honored this year with a plaque from the city for her documentation of its history and civic dedication. This reporter has seen her in action, taking to the podium numerous times to defend Granite Shoals parks, ensuring that they will be here for generations to come.
“I am really excited about the progress our city has made in the last 20 years,” King said. “I am looking forward to even better things happening.”