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The natural beauty of the Texas Hill Country on display at El Rancho Cima. Photos of El Ranch Cima were previously provided by Republic Ranches.

County moves forward to buy portion of former Boy Scout Ranch

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Hays County, in conjunction with The Nature Conservancy, will move forward to purchase an $13 million, approximately 530-acre tract of land along the Blanco River for both preservation and public use. 

The tract of land — located on Farm-to-Market Road 32 on the outskirts of Wimberley — is a habitat for the golden-cheeked warbler and was formerly part of a 2,382-acre ranch owned by the boy scouts. After 60 years of ownership, the ranch was then sold and divided into several 250-500-acre tracts, according to Pct. 3. Commissioner Lon Shell.

“One of those tracts, which is approximately 530 acres, also has a mile on both sides of the Blanco River,” Shell said. 

Shell said he began working with The Nature Conservancy to find a way to conserve the property. The conservation will benefit the County through habitat mitigation credits that could be put into the habitat conservation plan, according to Shell. 

“We realized that this property would provide us with an opportunity to add to our mitigation bank but on top of that, also provided us an opportunity to work towards having public access on that part of the river,” he said. 

The tract would be used in the summer season for river recreation during the months of May-September. However, County staff said during a meeting in October that the main function of the area would be for habitat preservation, which means trails in the area would be closed during the golden-cheeked warbler’s mating season during March-August. 

“In partnering with Hays County to protect this property, we have a rare opportunity to simultaneously safeguard this iconic piece of our state’s history and culture while meeting conservation goals and increasing the possibility of public access to nature in the fast-changing Texas Hill Country,” Laura Huffman, Regional Director of The Nature Conservancy in Texas, said in a press release. “And the credit really goes to Lon Shell and the rest of the Commissioners Court for their leadership and support of this project from the get-go. Collaborative land conservation deals like this are the only way to protect the nature we have left in a way that benefits both people and the environment.” 

Hays County will contribute approximately $7 million to the purchase agreement, which will be taken from the County’s 2016 transportation bond related to environmental mitigation. The Nature Conservancy will pay the remainder of the $13 million price and will retain temporary ownership of the property, according to a press release. 

“Hays County plans to eventually purchase the property at The Nature Conservancy’s cost and operate it as a public park and preserve — the Nature Conservancy will continue to hold a conservation easement on the land,” a press release stated. 

Shell said it could take a few years before the public gains access to the tract.

“It will take us a little while before we get the public out there, probably a few years, but I think we want to do it right and respectfully and I know it’s going to take us some time,” he said.

The Hays County Commissioners Court voted unanimously to move forward with the project, though Pct. 2 Commissioner Mark Jones was not present for the vote. 

San Marcos Record

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