State officials close to deal to expand Pedernales Falls State Park


Highlights

Pedernales Falls State Park among the most popular in the state’s park system.

Officials long worried the cliffs opposite the park could see large-scale development.

A deal meant to protect the views in a popular Hill Country state park appears to be near completion, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department officials and a landowner said Thursday.

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department will buy, at no more than half the market rate, 200 acres of private property on a bluff opposite Pedernales Falls State Park; landowner Mike Maples also will voluntarily mark an additional 70 acres as off-limits to development.

In total, roughly 3,200 feet of riverfront will be preserved, according to parks officials.

Pedernales Falls State Park, established more than 45 years ago, comprises 5,212 acres of Hill Country hiking trails and limestone bluffs, located 40 miles west of Austin.

Photos: Looking for adventure close to home? Paddle the Pedernales

But the department doesn’t own land on both sides of the Pedernales River in areas overlooking the park’s namesake falls, and department staff members have long been concerned about the future of key vistas.

Exact terms of the deal aren’t yet public, but it shapes up to be a generous offer from a landowner who wants to preserve the park for the public.

Maples, 75, has owned the 1,500-acre tract known as Cypress Mill Ranch since 1992. A native of Oklahoma, he and his family have long been involved in the tech business. He said he wanted to figure out a way to keep much of the property together for his children and grandchildren and preserve the bluff for the public.

The land, a portion of a larger ranch, could go for $25,000 an acre or more, Chey Perrin, a real estate agent in the Johnson City office of Anders Realty, told the American-Statesman in 2016. Access to river water, he said, “is gold in the Hill Country.”

Under the deal, the state, using only federal money, will be pay no more than half the appraised value of the 200 acres. The Maples family also is setting up a conservation easement on an additional 70 acres of the riverfront, thus preventing it from being developed. (Since the family is ceding its development rights, the easement will also lower property taxes on those 70 acres.)

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission voted Thursday to authorize its staff to acquire the Blanco County land.

After the vote, a stream of parks officials and members of the public approached Maples to thank him.

“It’s an unbelievable contribution to the parks of Texas,” said Dick Scott, one of the Texas Parks and Wildlife commissioners. “It’s a unique piece of dirt, one we’re lucky to get in these fiscal times.

“There wouldn’t be just one house built on that cliff,” he continued. “There would be an entire subdivision.”

Indeed, Maples said he has been approached frequently about developing a subdivision on the property.

“It would be easy to put 10 megahomes in there, but that would obliterate the view from the park of the wilderness,” Maples said.

In the last fiscal year, more than 215,000 people visited the park, putting it in the top 15 most visited parks in the Texas state parks system.

Officials in 2015 unveiled 15 miles of new mountain bike trails in the park, which also has a swimming spot.

“In terms of its aesthetics, its beauty and the number of people it attracts, (Pedernales) is one the gems of the state parks,” Ted Hollingsworth, land conservation director at the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, told commissioners.

Parks officials have said the new property could eventually be accessible to the public; the land already has trails up to the bluffs overlooking the falls.

“We couldn’t have a better neighbor to a state park,” Texas Parks and Wildlife Executive Director Carter Smith said Thursday. “This landowner is making this opportunity available to us at considerable expense to themselves and their family.”



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