Guadalupe-Blanco River Trust Preservation Matters


Hays County couple gives tour of restored, conserved land

May 15, 2010
Joshunda Sanders
Austin American-Statesman

Julie Johnson
Photo by Austin American-Statesman

When Julie Johnson and her husband, Gordon, bought 100 acres in Kyle more than 10 years ago, their plans for the property did not include farming. The sprawling land that had once been thick with lush native grasses had been overgrazed by cattle and was beat up.

After Johnson took a Texas Master Naturalist class, which consisted of training in the ecosystem of Hays County and natural resource management, she said she decided that the property should become a conservation easement, which is a voluntary legal agreement that ensures a property will be maintained according to the landowner's wishes for years into the future.

She said she was inspired to use the land as a way to protect natural beauty and water quality, which in her case, means that the 100 acres she now owns will never be developed. "Even though we're not very big, we hope that we can set an example for others," Johnson said.

During a two-hour tour Saturday, Johnson and Janaé Reneaud, executive director of the Guadalupe-Blanco River Trust, led a small group of landowners and nature lovers through the restored property, which has thick native grasses that help rainwater soak deep into the soil.

The trust is a nonprofit that helps supporters of conservation easements, like the Johnson ranch, in 13 counties throughout the state, Reneaud said.

A spectacular spread of big bluestem, plantain and other native grasses have sprung up over the land since it was restored.

Beth Heatwole, 58, brought a clipboard along as she hiked with a small group in the humid, partly cloudy weather.

Heatwole said she and her husband have lived on about 15 acres since 1976 and have been thinking both personally and professionally about being better environmental stewards of their land. Heatwole is the principal at the Master's School of San Marcos, which sits on 17 acres, and she said taking the tour helped her think about how best to prevent soil erosion on school property.

As development has continued to spread in Central Texas, such efforts, and people willing to take them on, seem to have become more popular, Reneaud said.

"Landowners who own open spaces like ranches and farms realize that they're not going to change the amount of developed structures on their properties, and it's becoming more commonly understood what a conservation easement is," she added.

Reneaud said that in 2009 her organization acquired four conservation easements — the most the organization received in a year in its eight-year history. Its largest easement is 6,200 acres in Goliad County.

Since such easements remain private, Heatwole said, "The opportunity to come to a wide open place like this doesn't come along that often." She said she was inspired by the presence of children on the tour, too. "Things like this help instill in children that things like this don't just happen without some effort."