The Hillert Tract, outlined, in eastern San Marcos.
By SEAN BATURA
A nonprofit conservation organization that wishes to create what it calls a “river park, wet lands, and shooting sports complex” on the 563-acre Hillert Tract in eastern San Marcos will host a public meeting and offer a presentation Wednesday night at the Hays County Extension Office.
The aforementioned organization, Texas Shooting Sports Complex (TxSSC), proposes to use grants and donations to pay for the construction, operation, and maintenance of approximately 50 acres of roads, buildings, berms, fields, and gun ranges on the Hillert Tract, which lies between Staples Road and the San Marcos River.
Downrange safety and noise mitigation acreage requirements may require about a 300-acre buffer zone around range’s footprint, for a total of 350 acres devoted to range infrastructure. TxSSC proposes that the rest of the property be used for a Ducks Unlimited-designed wetlands area and a park with 2,000 feet of San Marcos River frontage.
“We want to model our shooting sports complex off of what is happening at the George Bush Park and the National Shooting Sports Complex in San Antonio,” said TxSSC Vice President J.B. Kolodzey. “No matter what happens to us, we want to do the best we can. If this land becomes available to us to lease, what we want to bring to the county is a first-class Texas shooting sports complex.”
On May 18, Texas Separtment of Parks and Wildlife (TPW) Education Director Steve Hall told county commissioners his agency may be able to channel $1.5 million in federal money during three years to help build the shooting sports complex. A survey of the Hillert Tract’s flora, fauna, and cultural/historical features is necessary before TPW will agree to fund construction of the shooting ranges with available federal funds.
“If the land is acquired and if Hays County and TxSSC comes forth with a grant application, I will be recommending that the agency postpone its third party competitive grant program until the TxSSC project is completed — which I’m hoping can be a three-year project,” Hall said in July. “But if the total funding isn’t there over three years, it may have to be a five-year project allotted for shooting range construction/development. Under the current level of funding of $300,000-per-year average, that is doable. Either way, I’m hoping to put on the board a $1.5 million project request matched by a half million from TxSSC/Hays County for FY 2012 through FY 2016 beginning in September 2011.”
Hall said he would like for the project to be considered a statewide hunter education training center modelled after similar projects in Utah, Arizona, and Illinois.
TxSSC proposes the county would own the shooting sports complex, including all associated equipment, buildings, all other improvements on the land, and collect all revenue generated from range usage fees. The proposed shooting sports complex would accommodate activities associated with archery, air rifle and pistol, bench rest shooting, shotgun, skeet, trap, 5 stand, sporting clays, handgun, rifle, small bore, and muzzleloaders.
“We’re not asking the county for one penny to maintain this complex,” Kolodzey said. “We’re going to get it built with private money or donations.”
The county’s Shooting Sports Task Force (SSTF), charged in January 2009 with finding land for a shooting sports complex, went before the commissioners court in May to recommend that the county spend $5.5 million to purchase the Hillert Tract from the Anderson Group.
Kolodzey said Anderson Group may build 1,100 homes on the Hillert Tract unless the county buys it.
“You figure 1.5 cars per household, that’s about the average, each one of the cars would be coming and going at a minimum of twice a day,” Kolodzey said. “The traffic over there, and then all the impervious cover — what we’re asking the county to do is actually preserve a beautiful piece of property as open space.”
SSTF and TxSSC members say the Hillert Tract is eligible for parks and open space bond funds, approved by voters in 2007.
In a July 7 letter to the commissioners court, the Hays County Parks and Open Space Advisory Board (POSAB) said the use of parks bond funds to purchase the Hillert tract at $5.5 million “is not in line with the original intent of the parks and open spaces bond approved by county voters … However, the use of $600,000 on reserve for recreational projects may be appropriate.”
Since the aforementioned letter, POSAB has been tasked with creating scoring criteria for recreation projects, and the habitat conservation plan property for which commissioners were reserving most of the remaining bond funds has been chosen, though not purchased.
Taking into account a slew of recent parks and open space projects approved by the commissioners court, there would be approximately $1,630,746.56 left in the parks and open space bonds. However, negotiations for a $5 million expenditure to purchase of Nicholson Ranch property in western Hays County have not concluded. Further, the court may not allocate the full $1.7 million it recently reserved for improvements to Harrison Ranch Park.
On Aug. 11, TxSSC held a public meeting similar to the one it plans this week. Kolodzey said Commissioner Debbie Ingalsbe (D-San Marcos) requested the meeting. The Hillert Tract lies within Ingalsbe’s precinct. Kolodzey said the county wanted TxSSC to notify residents near the proposed park and shooting complex of the project so they could attend the Aug. 11 meeting.
“We’re trying to be open and above board,” Kolodzey said. “They wanted to have public meetings, so we didn’t know how to get a hold of these people, we didn’t have their addresses, so there was six of us who went out and we hung 170 door tags, and we had a pretty good turnout — a far better turnout than we’d every imagined. It was very informative for us. People make us change. We want it, we want to know what the public wants. It’s not what we want. We’re trying to do this for Hays County.”
TxSSC President Stephen Marlow said the meet-and-greet will begin Wednesday at 6 p.m., with a presentation following at 6:30 p.m. The Hays County Extension Office is located at 1253 Civic Center Loop in San Marcos. A version of the group’s presentation can be found on its website.Email | Print