Mother Neff State Park, the first state park in Texas, is on State Highway 236 and the Leon River sixteen miles southeast of Gatesville in eastern Coryell County. It was named for Isabella Eleanor Neff, mother of Governor Pat M. Neff, who willed the first six acres of the park to the state in 1916. Governor Neff deeded the rest of the 259-acre park to the state in 1934. The park was developed during the mid-1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps. It was under the administration of the Texas State Parks Board until 1963, when it became part of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
In the 1980s Mother Neff State Park averaged 130,000 visitors per year. Among the facilities available at the park were campsites, picnic areas, restrooms, and showers. Recreational activities included fishing in the Leon River, but swimming was difficult because the steep riverbanks limited accessibility. The hiking trail provided many opportunities to study birds, wildlife, and plants, and playground equipment was available for children. The park's open-air pavilion was a popular site for family reunions and outdoor weddings. Other nearby points of interest included Lake Belton, twelve miles to the south, the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum in Waco, and the American Railroad Museum in Temple.