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TPW Commission Rejects Offer To Buy Big Bend Ranch Land
AUSTIN, Texas — The Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission today rejected an offer to buy part of Big Bend Ranch State Park, citing concerns that there were no guarantees the complicated transaction would improve public access and resource conservation consistent with the agency’s mission and plans.
The offer from a neighboring landowner was to buy a mostly inaccessible part of the northern “panhandle” of Big Bend Ranch and use proceeds from the sale to buy inholdings (privately owned parcels within the park) and boundary parcels from willing sellers. A conservation easement legal agreement was included to protect the northern property after the sale, with a goal to limit development and insure water flow and habitat restoration in an important creek corridor.
“Our mission is to manage and conserve natural and cultural resources and to improve public access to the outdoor for all Texans,” said Joseph B.C. Fitzsimons, TPW Commission chairman.
“The offer was to exchange inaccessible park land for accessible park land, but the offer was rejected because it did not guarantee that we would be able to obtain the new park land within a reasonable time period. Although I realize many people were concerned about a lack of public information on the proposal, it’s important to note that the landowner’s offer did not exist in final form until yesterday, so we were not able to discuss specifics until today.”
Fitzsimons emphasized that a key goal of the Land and Water Conservation and Recreation Plan, the strategic plan that guides the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, is to improve access to the outdoors.
“As everyone saw in today’s public hearing, Big Bend Ranch State Park has unique access problems,” Fitzsimons said. “One of our goals is to improve access, and the offer presented to us today was meant to address those problems. We appreciate our neighbor’s offer, but it did not guarantee that new park land would be available to the people of Texas.”
Today’s commission vote followed a tumultuous week of intense public interest in the proposal. Dozens of people, from average citizens who love the Big Bend country to legislators to leaders of other state agencies and conservation groups, sent hundreds of emails or letters. More than 50 people spoke in public hearings yesterday and today. An attorney sent a letter offering to buy the property in question and donate it back to the state–a proposal that commissioners instructed staff to pursue immediately.
“We are not surprised by the public interest in our state parks, and in this park in particular,” said Robert L. Cook, TPWD executive director. “But we deeply appreciate the passion and support for our conservation mission that many people showed when commenting on this topic. Almost every single person congratulated us for the work we do and the quality of our state park system, regardless of their views on the proposal.”
Big Bend Ranch was purchased by TPWD in 1988 and is currently about 300,000 acres in size, extending along the Rio Grande from east of Presidio to near Lajitas in Brewster and Presidio Counties. The next largest state park in Texas is Palo Duro Canyon at about 26,000 acres.
The state park is home to diverse animal and plant species, including 14 species of bats, several species of hummingbirds, and many other significant plants and animals, including Hinckley oaks and mountain lions. The park maintains a small Texas longhorn herd, a remnant of the property's ranching heritage.
The western entrance at Fort Leaton includes the complex office managing all site facilities, located four miles southeast of Presidio on the River Road (FM 170). From the River Road near Presidio, a dirt road winds northeast taking visitors into the Sauceda ranch headquarters and visitor center located in the park interior. The eastern entrance at TPWD’s Barton Warnock Environmental Education Center is one mile east of Lajitas on the River Road.
About 7,800 people visited Big Bend Ranch in 2004. About 1,700 people camped along the river, and another 770 people camped in the interior. The park offers lodging at Sauceda in the more modest bunkhouse and in the former ranch family’s hacienda known as “the big house.” About 552 people stayed overnight at the Sauceda “big house” and about 1,200 people stayed at the Sauceda bunkhouse. Open year-round, the park offers a variety of activities for the public throughout the year.
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