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

GALLERY: Swimmers enjoy Jacob’s Well on a hot day in June 2012. PHOTOS by PATRICK LEWIS


STAFF REPORT

WIMBERLEY — More than eight years after commissioners first appropriated $3 million in parks bond money to preserve a storied artesian spring near Woodcreek, Hays County will celebrate the grand opening of the Jacob’s Well Natural Area on Saturday, May 10.

Jacob’s Well — the headwaters of Cypress Creek which flows through downtown Wimberley before pouring into the Blanco River — has been a source of fascination for Wimberley Valley residents since it was “discovered” by early settlers William W. Moon and William C. Winters in the 1850s. They described a “crevice in the creek bed which was overflowing with an abundance of clear, cool water as ‘like unto a well in Bible times,’” according to a 2001 article by Louie Bond.

In 2005, the Wimberley Valley Watershed Association secured a $2 million private loan and a $1 million gift to buy 46 acres, including the well and the upper-most stretch of Cypress Creek. In February 2008, the Hays County Commissioners Court voted to give $3 million of voter-approved parks bond money to the watershed association to pay off the loan and to continue the well’s preservation.

The watershed association’s hold on the property was short-lived. In August 2010, the group conveyed about 31 acres of the property to the county, including the well itself, through an agreement under which the association was to serve as the well’s caretaker for five years and keep the remaining 15 acres as its base of operations.

Later that year, the commissioners court voted to buy about 50 acres adjoining the natural area for $1.7 million from Westridge Joint Ventures, a company that had ensnared the watershed association and the city of Woodcreek in a protracted legal battle over plans to develop its property as a residential resort. The purchase was funded by another $850,000 in parks bond money, originally designated for the city of Kyle, and a $850,000 loan from The Nature Conservancy.

“This preserve is a good investment by the taxpayers of Hays County. It’s a wonderful recreational area for families… It serves as an educational facility for current and future generations to learn about the Wimberley Valley ecosystem and the importance of our natural resources. And it helps our business climate by encouraging tourism which is our area’s largest economic asset,” Pct. 3 Commissioner Will Conley said.

In July 2012, when the commissioners court adopted a master plan for preservation of the 81.5-acre Jacob’s Well Natural Area, they also decided to end the watershed association’s formal management role under a “with cause” provision of the 2010 contract.

Since then, the county has begun a partial implementation of the master plan including demolition of the former Woodcreek North Property Owners Association building and eight condo units and removal of asphalt streets, utilities and concrete pads that used to form a mobile home park. An “interpretive garden” has been planted at the Nature Center, which is undergoing renovations. And hike and bike trails have been added to the 40-plus acres that form the Uplands area of the preserve.

The natural area is open 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. seven days a week. Volunteers from the Hays County Master Naturalists offer guided tours at 10 a.m. on Saturdays.

Go there

Jacob’s Well Natural Area Grand Opening
221 Woodacre Drive, Wimberley | Map
10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, May 10

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7 thoughts on “After years of wrangling, Hays County to officially open Jacob’s Well preserve

  1. Does the county raid the taxpayer coffers to give such gifts to other residents?

    David Baker and crew at WVWA borrowed nearly $2 million to purchase the 46 acres. The entire 46 acres (including the WVWA motel) was security for the loan.

    Two years later when WVWA didn’t pay off the loans, it went running to the county. However, Conley’s deal paid WVWA $2.6 million and allowed WVWA to retain title to all of the property. This was nothing but a pure gift of taxpayer dollars to one of Conley’s buddies. The $2.6 million was paid to WVWA, not to its lender. The article never explains that the county paid $700,000 more than the amount WVWA borrowed. WVWA did pay off its lender but there’s been no explanation as to where the $700,000 went or why Conley’s deal allowed his buddy David Baker to retain ownership (via WVWA) of all of the 46 acres.

    WVWA lobbied nearby Woodcreek to adopt an ordinance directly specifically at the property owned by what would be a far superior competitor to WVWA. The “impervious cover” ordinance resulted in a lawsuit by the developer against Woodcreek and WVWA. David Baker went running to Conley again to use taxpayer dollars to bail WVWA out of trouble. This time the scheme is paying $1.7 million (overpriced) to buyout the developer. However it gets far worse. The county could have just purchased the property for that price. Instead the county pays full purchase price for the property with development rights but Conley ensures that virtually 100% of the value of the property goes to The Nature Conservancy. The taxpayers get screwed by Conley again.

    Although the article above highlights the conveyance of 31 acres in the second transaction, keep in mind that the county already paid for those plus the extra 15 that Baker (via WVWA) kept, plus a premium of about $700,000 two years earlier. The gift was from taxpayers to Baker via Conley not from WVWA to Hays County. In addition to this land purchase, WVWA (Baker) was given an exclusive, compensated management arrangement. For the most part the philosophy was “natural” and prohibited basic things like brush trimming so WVWA got paid to do nothing.

    Although not mentioned on the WVWA website, David Baker is the “executive director” of the WVWA which pays him a salary. The solicitations for donations never mention the portion that go to pay his salary, benefits, or perks before being used (if ever) for the stated purpose of the organization. Perhaps folks should ask questions before opening their pocketbooks. The taxpayers didn’t have a choice – Conley reached in and took it out of their pocketbooks without asking.

    Don’t stop with the warm, fuzzy spin set forth in the paper’s article (no offense to the journalist who likely was unaware of anything other than the story Conley or Baker told him). The taxpayers paid for WVWA’s hotel, ensured Baker wouldn’t have competition, gave Baker an easement over to the county’s well (Baker wound up with the benefits but saddled the county with the liabilities), paid his organization a management agreement to do nothing, got stiffed on the 50 acres, and paid WVWA about $700,000 on top of everything else. It’s easy to spend other people’s money. No doubt David Baker and WVWA’s members will support Conley next time Conley runs for office. The real question will be whether the actual taxpayers will if they know what he did.

  2. Wow, Conley did all this through two differnt Commissioner’s Courts, City of Kyle, City of Woodcreek, City of WImberley, and a parks committee made up of citizens independently choosen from across the county. All votes which were overwhelming majorities on all bases in support. Take your hate, lies, and agenda some place else buddy, nobody is buying your fantasy.

  3. ???
    City of Kyle, City of Woodcreek, and City of Wimberley had absolutely nothing to do with this “deal”.

    When the city of Woodcreek first heard about it the city council wanted to know what was going to happen to the money “given” to WVWA by Woodcreek to make certain improvements that hadn’t been made. That was LCRA money that was supposed to go to the city, not WVWA and it was already a shady deal for WVWA to be getting the LCRA money indirectly through Woodcreek. David Baker offered nothing but quick diversions by David Baker as to what happened to the money. Woodcreek city councilmember’s response “there’s red flags going up all over the place here”.

    As far a multiple commissioners courts were concerned, Conley (and Karen Ford) were so desperate to get this deal done before a new commissioners court was seated. So desperate, they didn’t care about the entanglement with the SOS bankruptcy and the stern warning provided by the bankruptcy court. So desperate, they didn’t even want to survey the property that the county was supposed to be buying. They knew another commissioners court wasn’t going to support the deal. The second payout in particular was advertised by Conley as a purchase of 50 acres, not a purchase of 50 acres and gifting of 100% of the value of the property to The Nature Conservancy which is what they originally planned to do. No details of the second deal were relayed to anyone but insiders until Commissioners Court the week of Thanksgiving 2010. They also didn’t provide the sweetheart “management” agreement the taxpayers were expected to fund.

    As far as that “parks committee” is concerned, who do you think was one of the first people at the inception of the Parks and Open Spaces committee after the bond election? David Baker.

    Care to explain why Conley ensured WVWA kept title to all 46 acres after the first deal or where the $700,000 over and above the loan went? When you rob Peter to pay David you can always count on the support of David.

    There’s nothing here but facts, Jade.

  4. Jade on 04/10/2014 at 10:02

    Jade presents brilliantly chosen calumny meant to impute the facts. This was a scandalous deal and many know it – should be cause for concern by all Hays County citizens. Power corrupts and Conley is guilty.

  5. Outraged Citizen,
    Appropriate name. Conley refuses to personalize or radicalized his government postion. Which dosen’t sit well with those that prefer to operate in this fashion. Instead he is just focused on the greater good of the community. In my opinion this is exactly what he should be doing. Leave your agendas at the door and do what is best for the people you serve. There are many checks and balances in our local sysytem and Conley has no power to do anything alone so I would think about that before calling into to question the man’s charcter.

  6. “Good for the community”? Ha, ha, ha.
    Which community is that? What a joke.

    Do you think that if you borrowed millions of dollars the county will step in and gift money to you to pay off your debts, give you tax exemptions, and pay you a management fee on top of that? Well you must not be part of the kommunity.

    Has the county paid for anyone else’s business/property and then let them keep it? (e.g., the hotel + 15 acres) No?

    The initial debt was $1.9 million – it’s a matter of public record. Any reason why the county gave WVWA $700,000 over and above its debt? What did WVWA do to get another $400,000 in “management fees”?

    How is it good for the kommunity to pay above market price for the property, get less than what you paid for (31 instead of 46 acres), and then to gift nearly 100% of the value of the property to The Nature Conservancy?

    After getting $3 million in taxpayer dollars, one shouldn’t be surprised to see David Baker (and WVWA) supporting Conley. I have no doubt Conley would rather just sweep all of this under a rug.

  7. All I know about this is what I’ve read in these postings. From what I’ve read, it looks like IC_deLight has his facts pretty much in order.

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