San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

February 3rd, 2010
Landowners donate conservation easements on Blanco River

by BRAD ROLLINS
Editor and Publisher

The 2,193-acre Halifax Ranch near Kyle — and its more than two miles of breathtaking Blanco River frontage — will be preserved from real estate development forever under a conservation easement donated by its owners.

Bill Johnson looks over the Halifax Ranch on a bluff above the Blanco River. Johnson and his sisters donated a conservation easement on the 2,193-acre property.

In the same announcement, the conservancy said Peter and Mary Faye Way donated a conservation easement on their 340 acres upriver from the Halifax Ranch.

“Anyone who has laid eyes on the Blanco River Valley can appreciate its beauty and thanks to the actions of these two families, that beauty will last into the future,” said Laura Huffman, the conservancy’s state director.

The Johnson and Way conservation easements are the first held by the conservancy along the Blanco in Hays County, said Rachael Ranft, the conservancy’s Northern Hill Country River Projects director.

“The biggest threat to the Blanco River is development. The more of these easements we get, the better off we are in terms of water quality and quantity and species habitat,” Ranft said. Both properties are prime habitat for the federally listed endangered golden-cheeked warbler.

Ranft declined to say what the easements are worth because final appraisals on the property are not available.

Conservation easements in Hays County often sell for about 40 percent of the land’s appraised value. At $10,000 an acre, certainly a low number, the easements are worth at least $10 million.

The conservancy’s Blanco River Project seeks to preserve large tracts along the river’s 87-mile course through three counties. The vast majority of land along the river is held privately.

“People like the Johnsons and the Ways prove that the actions of a few can deeply benefit the lives of many. They’re not only ensuring their family lands will stay intact, but protecting natural resources for the Texans of tomorrow,” Huffman said.

The Johnsons began exploring donation of a conservation easement in 2003 when their parents died, said Bill Johnson, who lives on the property.

“All of us had a very strong desire to see the ranch preserved in its entirety. We wanted to look at various ways we could pursue keeping it intact and avoid breaking it up,” Johnson said.

Way is already a folk hero among the county’s conservationists. In 2003, he bought and held 500 acres that included Wimberley’s Blue Hole on Cypress Creek until the village could raise funds to make the property a public park.

About his Blanco River donation, he said, “Our objective was to encourage easements to preserve our limited water resources. My family has always been aware of the need to put conservation easements on critical watershed properties, and the time was right for us to act.”

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