Presenter: Kathryn Nichols

Commission Agenda Item No. 11
Land Exchange – Burnet County
April 2000

I. Discussion: The department acquired Longhorn Caverns State Park between 1932 and 1937. This original acquisition included the purchase of the main body of the park, approximately 525 acres that contain the large cave opening, a smaller tract of land of 25 acres, believed to be the land above the caverns, and a corridor of approximately 150 acres in which a scenic park road, Park Road 4, could be developed to link Longhorn Caverns with Inks Lake State Park. Over the years, the caverns have been further explored and mapped, and it is now known that the main passage of the cavern and numerous side passages extend as much as a half mile north of the park boundary and are located under private property.

Burnet County, like much of the Hill Country, is experiencing growth pressures. Some properties near Longhorn Caverns along Park Road 4 are being subdivided into ranchettes. One adjacent tract of about 400 acres, recently purchased by a local developer, has no legal access. The new owner approached the department seeking to obtain a legal easement into this tract through park property along Park Road 4. Upon his initial request, staff informed him that the department has no obligation to grant him an easement through parkland, and he was urged to seek access through neighbors' property. The owner then informed staff that his property contains an entrance into Longhorn Caverns. He offered to either sell the entire 400-acre tract to the department or grant the department some smaller acreage in exchange for a driveway easement.

Staff believes that an exchange would be beneficial to the department for several reasons. Controlling a second entrance to the cave would prevent unauthorized entry into the main tour area of Longhorn Caverns. A contracted hydrogeologist study identified nearby karst features that along with the cave opening provide direct surface recharge into the underground caverns. Including some of these in the acreage to be acquired would provide additional protection to the cave's watershed. Staff has also requested that the property owner include a 100-foot strip along the portion of his tract that fronts Park Road 4. This buffer tract along the road would help minimize the intrusion of viewing houses from the scenic drive. It is the staff's opinion that an exchange of land interests at no cost to the department is more beneficial to the department than a proposal to purchase the entire property in fee at current development prices. The driveway easement will be limited to a strip 50 feet wide and approximately 200 feet long, and the driveway design must be approved by the department to insure it is as unobtrusive as possible. In exchange for granting this easement, the department will acquire approximately 7 acres within the buffer strip and about 10 acres in a tract around the cave opening and karst features. The property owner would also provide a right of entry across the remainder of his tract to access the cave tract.

No new operating funds are anticipated to manage the additions as they would provide no visitor access, and the acreage is small. It is recommended, however, that the cave tract be fenced and the cave opening be reinforced and gated to prevent unauthorized entry. The costs for these improvements are estimated at $18,000.

II. Recommendation: Staff recommends the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission adopt the following motion:

"The Executive Director is authorized to take all necessary steps to consummate an acquisition by donation of two tracts of approximately 7 and 10 acres of land to become part of Longhorn Caverns State Park and, in exchange, to grant a driveway easement through Longhorn Caverns State Park."

Attachments - 2

1. Exhibit A – Location Map (Available Upon Request)
2. Exhibit B – Fiscal Note (Available Upon Request)