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A Natural Legacy

Photo courtesy of TPWD

Story by Dan Oko

The pressure of development across the Texas Hill Country is hard to miss, but then again so are the thousands of acres of protected cherished landscapes that the public still enjoys. Extending along the scenic Balcones Escarpment are several state properties that have entertained generations of visitors, including popular Garner State Park, as well as Lost Maples State Natural Area, Government Canyon SNA and Hill Country SNA. Now, west of Boerne in the heart of Bandera Electric Cooperative's service area, plans are underway to open a new preserve, the 3,812-acre Albert and Bessie Kronkosky State Natural Area.

Set in rugged country along the Bandera-Kerr county line, about 45 minutes by car from San Antonio, the ranchland was first purchased by Albert and Bessie Kronkosky in the 1940s. After the owners passed away, leaving no heirs, instructions in their will provided for the transfer of the property to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to preserve its natural state. Because of important ecological resources, including rare native plants and endangered wildlife, TPWD will manage the land as a natural area rather than a state park. That designation means the agency will favor resource protection over recreational resources.

Veteran TPWD employee James Rice, appointed as the SNA’s first superintendent, has been leading land surveys, working with volunteers to evaluate habitat and aquatic—as well as historic and cultural—resources that will determine the area's official public-use plan. Currently, Rice explains, although the planning and design process have begun, the opening date will depend on the Legislature’s budget priorities. “It’s getting exciting now,” Rice says. “But if there is a hurricane, a flood or another disaster, that would have an effect on our timeline.”

In addition to the parks in BEC's service territory, TPWD is also fundraising for new public land projects, including the coastal Powderhorn Ranch complex near Port O’Connor and Palo Pinto Mountains State Park outside of Fort Worth, which will complement the Kronkosky SNA.

Still, according to Rice, there are a host of attributes that make the Kronkosky spread a truly special place. A wild native bean, known as the Boerne bean, is one of the unique area plants. The area also includes breeding habitat for the endangered golden-cheeked warbler, a songbird that is protected under federal law, and a salamander species has been discovered there that is so new he says it doesn’t really have a name yet. “We are loosely calling them the Texas spring salamander, and are working with biologists at U.S. Fish and Wildlife and Texas Parks and Wildlife to get them classified.”

With steep hills and dry draws that collect water during the rainy season, he adds, the ranch helps to recharge the Edwards Aquifer, contributing to the watershed. Protecting these resources may in turn force TPWD to close sensitive parts of the natural area to the public, but Rice makes clear that TPWD does plan to develop a network of hiking and biking trails. “The biggest part of opening a state property is knowing what you have,” he says.

Either way, the infrastructure will be limited to just about 100 acres across the entire Kronkosky SNA, including roads and management facilities. And, just as BEC does at the Hill Country SNA closer to Bandera and Lost Maples SNA in Sabinal Canyon, the cooperative will provide electricity to TPWD at the Kronkosky property, where easements already exist.

“Every footprint is an impact,” says Rice. “Our goal is that 50, 60 or 70 years from now, people will experience this place like it is today, if not find it in even better shape.”


Posted: 6/1/2022 2:09:14 PM
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