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TPW Commission Approves Devils River Land Acquisition
AUSTIN – The Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission Monday authorized the acquisition of nearly 18,000 acres of biologically diverse and culturally significant land in Val Verde County with 10 miles of frontage along the pristine Devil’s River by leveraging $4 million in public dollars with more than $10 million in private donations.
“What an exciting Christmas gift for the State of Texas,” Commission chair Peter Holt said moments after the commission voted unanimously to authorize Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Executive Director Carter Smith to formally close the purchase of the Devils River Ranch later this week.
The ranch, which adjoins the 67,000-acre Amistad National Recreation Area, has been appraised at $15,875,000 but the owner agreed to sell the property to TPWD for $13 million as well as donating several hundred thousand dollars worth of ranch equipment and furnishings to the state.
TPWD will use $10.1 million in private donations, $2.7 million in state funds allocated for park land acquisition and $1.3 million in federal Land and Water Conservation Fund dollars to acquire the property. The donations also will cover operating expenses for two-and-a-half years as well as development of a master plan for joint public use of the ranch and the Devils River State Natural Area, 12.7 miles upstream.
A proposal to exchange the 20,000-acre state natural area for the Devils River Ranch was pulled from the Nov. 4 commission agenda after TPWD heard extensive public input. At the time, the commission directed TPWD staff to continue exploring options to acquire new land along the river while keeping the existing state natural area and working toward achieving a balance between recreational use of the land and protection of the wild stream’s sensitive resources.
“The Devil’s River Ranch is a stunning piece of property with incredible potential,” said Commissioner Dan Hughes, who after visiting the site led the fund-raising effort along with agency director Smith. “This land is a treasure for all generations to come.”
At Monday’s meeting, of 13 persons who testified before the commission, all said they favored the Devils River Ranch purchase. Of 24 written comments received from the public by TPWD, 20 supported the purchase.
“The public input process has worked the way it should – we’ve heard from Texans across the state and have been responsive to that input,” Holt said. “One of the things we’ll be doing in response to that input is putting together a working group to develop a long term plan for the protection of the river and for ongoing operation of the two units of the Devils River State Natural Area.”
Holt said the working group will include landowners, paddlers, businesses, non-profit partners and others who will seek solutions to address the recreational interests of Devils River users as well as the property rights of adjacent landowners.
“We anticipate that it will take two-and-a-half years to complete the master plan for the operation of the two units of the Devils River State Natural Area,” said Smith. “While that is taking place, public access to the current Devils River SNA will remain open. In the meantime, we’ll also be stepping up law enforcement patrols by Texas game wardens all along the river.”
Commissioners Monday also approved acquisition of about 14 acres of private land just north of the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center in Athens. The tract will be used to build a small reservoir to provide water for fish hatchery ponds.
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