Balcones acquires Peaceful Springs

Contributed

Karen Pond is one idyllic scene from Peaceful Springs Nature Preserve, a 520-acre acquisition to Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge.

By Glynis Crawford Smith

The Highlander

It became official last week: Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge has expanded by 520 acres.

The exchange of $3 million to deliver the new property into the administration of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was made by the Trust for Public Land. Just out of the limelight was Friends of Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge, a citizen non-profit of about 160 members, representing hundreds, if not thousands, of small contributors and workers to raise half the cost.

David and Cynthia Castleberry already were committed to preserving the land involved as Peaceful Springs Nature Preserve, a quiet corner of Burnet County dedicated to ecotourism. Residents of Bertram, Oatmeal and Smithwick are familiar with the property that runs along Farm to Market Road 1174, just south of Farm to Market Road 1869.

It was there in October that the Friends of Balcones were hosts to donors at a simple wiener roast.

“We had s'mores for dessert and conducted hiking tours for the contributors,” said Jane Brunclik of Lago Vista, president of the Friends board of directors.

“A lot of the credit goes to the Castleberrys and to their caretaker Karen Kilfeather,” said Brunclik. “She is a member of the Friends. They all helped put this together and, theway land prices have been going, they could have sold the property for much more.”

Since it was created in 2003, Friends of Balcones have helped support the national refuge and conduct education programs there.

“Through their initiative, grant writing, one extremely generous donor and the relationship with the Castleberrys, Friends raised the first million and a half dollars toward the purchase,” said Brunclik.

“From the beginning, this acquisition has been about much more than purchasing land,” said Scott Parker, Texas state director for The Trust for Public Land (TPL). “We are protecting the Edwards Aquifer, habitat for threatened and endangered species, and the iconic landscape of the Texas Hill Country. Peaceful Springs is as delicate as a Monarch butterfly and as rugged as an ancient oak; and while much of the surrounding natural landscape is being converted into residential developments, the Peaceful Springs Preserve will be permanently protected for future generations. The community threw their heart and soul behind this project, and I am very proud of the outcome.”

Although the $3 million raised moved through the Trust for Public Land to a private land owner, it will be sold it to the United States Fish and Wildlife Service for $1.32 million, paid for the most part by the Land and Water Conservation Fund (the LWCF). The LWCF is funded by a small fraction of revenues generated by offshore oil and gas royalty payments; it is not supported with general taxpayer dollars. LWCF funding for Peaceful Springs Preserve did not become available until this year, according to the TPL announcement.

“Peaceful Springs Preserve is a significant addition to Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge,” said Dr. Benjamin N. Tuggle, regional director for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Southwest Region. “The acquisition will protect one of the four major bird migration routes in North America, as well as secure habitats and migration corridors for suites of species that include the monarch butterfly and two federally listed native songbirds—the Goldencheeked warbler and the Black-capped vireo. We are grateful for the innovation and passion of many partners including The Trust for Public Land and the Friends of Balcones Canyonlands Refuge.”

Brunclik said that access to the new property, like most of the preserve, will not be open to the passing motorist. Guests, some 34,341 of them last year, check in at the refuge headquarters, beyond the entrance at 24518 Ranch to Market Road 1431, east of Marble Falls.

“Because of the way the land has been preserved for the last 20 years, native plant species not often found in the area survive,” said Brunclik. “Plants like the Texas Madrone, unheard of this far east grow there. We want to conduct interpretive hikes to emphasize these rather uncommon native plants.

“There is also a wonderful pavilion where we can hold outdoor classrooms.

“Peaceful Springs will be part of the annual Christmas Bird Count that the Travis County Audubon Society conducts at the refuge.”

Refuge Manager Kelly Purkey said the 520-acre acquisition connected two blocks of the refuge into 7,000 contiguous acres and brings the total acerage to about 25,000 acres.

“That is one reason it was so important,” said Purkey. “Our acquisition boundary is 80,000 acres. We can purchase land, from willing owners only, within that area. We are at 25,000 acres now...hoping for 40,000 acres someday.”

The TPL recognized the leadership of the former president of the Friends board, Dub Lyon, board member Joan Mukherjee and grants from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Society and the Malcolm C. Damuth Foundation. Purkey and Brunclik go further down the giving chain.

“This could never have been accomplished without the Friends,” said Purkey.

“Family and friends of our board members contributed,” said Brunclik. “People they met on Facebook gave and there were donors in our annual fundraising appeal and at Amplify Austin last year. We are grateful to all of them.”

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