Answers to Go with Susan Smith

Q. When my kids were little, we used to take them to the Little Arkansas stretch of the Blanco River. All I can find online are stories about various real estate and inheritance controversies. What information do you have on the more recent history of Little Arkansas?

A.  My source for this column is “The Blanco River,” a truly beautiful new book by Wes Ferguson with photography by Jacob Croft Botter. Of course, we’d love to have our readers check out this book, but take note– it would make the perfect gift for a river lover.

Ferguson writes about kayaking to Little Arkansas after launching at the Hidden Valley Road low-water crossing. There is no date in the chapter, but since he talks about tall cypress trees along the bank, it may have been before the 2015 Memorial Day flood. 

For river runners, he locates the area at two bends below the Texas State University camp on the Blanco downstream from Wimberley. He quotes C.W. Wimberley’s description:  “sheer canyon walls, fern-laden bluffs and cedar-covered peaks, (where) the meadows slope down to lazy water holes shaded by huge bald cypress trees and you have some of the best scenery afforded in the Texas Hill Country.”

A spring cascades over a cliff on the south bank of the river. In 1950, Fern Bank, a.k.a. Blanco River, salamanders were found in this spring. Another rare salamander species, the Blanco blind salamander, was found in a different spring.

How did Little Arkansas get its name? Some claim pioneers were reminded of the clear water and steep hills of the Ozark Mountains. Others give credit to Ezekiel Nance, former state treasurer of Arkansas, who settled there in 1853.

How did Little Arkansas come to be a campground?  In the 1920s, Charlie and Liza Howell bred, trained, and raced thoroughbred horses there. During World War II, they opened their ranch to campers. Liza ran the campground until her death in 1991. 

In 2001, an extremely wealthy Houston trial lawyer, John O’Quinn, owned Little Arkansas. He asked Hays County to close Little Arkansas Road and provided funds for a new road that passed around his ranch and away from the river.  O’Quinn died in an automobile accident in 2009.

In 2011, the wealthy LaMantias of South Texas bought the land and renamed it Needmore Ranch. In 2013, they won the legislature’s approval for a special political district which allowed them to make plans for residential development of Needmore/Little Arkansas.

More recently, the San Marcos Daily Record and the Austin American Statesman have covered Greg LaMantia’s efforts to get approval to pull more groundwater from the Trinity Aquifer beneath Needmore. Area residents and water conservation groups are concerned about the effects of over pumping from the aquifer.

San Marcos Daily Record

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P.O. Box 1109, San Marcos, TX 78666