Conserving land in Austin as the skyline grows

How do we protect what attracted so many of us to this area and still grow as a city?

AUSTIN, Texas -- One look, one visit, one experience is all it takes to hook people on Austin and the Hill Country.

Hundreds of people move here every day, but there's a price for all of this progress.

“People move to the Hill Country because it is such a unique and special place," said Frank Davis. "When you think of the Hill Country you think of nature, trees, swimming holes. Between 1997 and 2007 Texas lost over 1.1 million acres of agricultural lands. These are working lands that multiple generations have worked on and they are forever gone.”

As Director of Land Conservation for the Hill Country Conservancy, Davis has helped preserve nearly 45,000 acres in the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer. It is not an easy task.

Small land sales in Texas are booming -- they have risen 14.2 percent since 2015 and a third of all small land sales happen right here in Austin and the Hill Country.

Conservationists are getting help from some unlikely landowners.

“I was pretty proud of the fact that we changed this property's future,” said Richard Garriott.

Garriott is considered the founding father of the video game industry. The man credited with creating the term 'avatar' and who became a leader in private space flights, has built his life focused on progress. But as he sells one of the last ranches on Lake Austin, he is focused on preserving the past.

“It's been a big playground for me for the last 10 to 20 years,” said Garriott.

65 acres off 360 and 2222. A quirky piece of property nestled between the lake and the hills. A place where dragons and swans join pirates and pawns, where cannons in the front yard border Canyon Creek in the back. There has been interest from housing developers.

“This piece of property cannot be split up and developed, said Garriott. “It is now permanently set aside as a nature preserve.”

This property, which was once intended to be developed into hundreds of lakefront homes, cannot be split.

“This is one of the last large parcels of land on all of Lake Austin that's available for sure,” said Gary Dolch, Executive Vice President of Cooper’s Sotheby’s International Realty.

“The protections that I've put in place have to stay in place,” said Garriott.

Garriott set up a conservation easement -- which limits development and protects the water and wildlife - something 15,000 people across the country did last year.

“It keeps the land together while preserving the water, the wildlife, the views all of us enjoy,” said Davis.

Smart development that many hope will keep this area different than other places across Texas.   

The Hill Country Conservancy feels so strongly about the mission it is now expanding efforts into Burnett and Llano counties.

“It's important for us to protect the water, preserve the wildlife if we don't do these things the nature of the Hill Country is lost and it's not such a nice place to move to or to live in anymore,” said Davis.

An effort to keep progress from taking over the place where so many of us found our purpose.

This map shows you land conservation efforts across the state. The dark green represents the biggest areas that have been protected.

A lot of these groups say the biggest thing we can do is help our children get outdoors. You can’t protect something you don't love.

These organizations are actively involved in preserving Texas land:

https://www.landtrustalliance.org/about/history

http://www.texaslandtrustcouncil.org/

https://hillcountryconservancy.org/

 

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