Texas ranches are increasingly transforming into homes and businesses to support the state’s explosive population growth. But one ranch along the Gulf Coast is bucking that trend.
All 17,351 acres of the Powderhorn Ranch, located in Calhoun County near Port Lavaca, have been donated to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and will one day become a state park, according to a Thursday announcement.
The ranch is one of the largest remaining tracts of “unspoiled coastal prairie” in Texas and will protect hundreds of species of birds and animals including the endangered whooping crane, the department said.
“Powderhorn Ranch conserves pristine wildlife habitat in an area of Texas that is facing increasing development pressure,” Carter Smith, executive director of Texas Parks and Wildlife, said in a statement. “The investment in this property forever protects a remarkable diversity of species and habitat.”
Efforts to preserve the property have been underway since at least 2014, when significant funding became available through the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund that arose out of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, which devastated the region’s environment.
The project cost the Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation, the official nonprofit partner of the state agency, nearly $50 million to purchase the land, restore habitat and establish a fund for long-term maintenance. Nearly 15,000 acres were transferred from the foundation to the state in 2018, and the final 1,360-acre land transaction wrapped up on Oct. 27.
“The donation of Powderhorn Ranch is a promise kept,” Mike Greene, chairman of the foundation’s board of trustees, said in a statement. “This historic investment was made possible by an exceptional public-private partnership and exemplifies how landscape-scale conservation can be achieved in Texas and beyond.”
Several donors and nonprofits were involved in raising millions to obtain Powderhorn. The Nature Conservancy established an agreement known as a conservation easement that permanently bans land from being sold to developers planning to turn land into homes or retail.
Birding, hunting, camping and research are already taking place at the ranch, though there is no timeline in place yet for developing a state park, according to Texas Parks and Wildlife. The agency is currently preparing to open Palo Pinto Mountains State Park, the first new state park in North Texas in 25 years, in 2023.