HAYS COUNTY, Texas (KXAN) — Hays County commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday morning to put up about half the money to buy a portion of the former El Rancho Cima Boy Scout camp along the Blanco River.
The Nature Conservancy pledged the other half of the $13 million price tag in a bid to acquire the 536-acre plot to turn the plot into a reservation-based recreation and swimming area, similar to Hamilton Pool or Jacob’s Well (another partnership between the county and the Conservancy).
The conservation group expects the sale to close on Friday, Nov. 22.
Jeff Francell, the Nature Conservancy’s director of land protection, said it’s important to prevent development on the property, split between Hays and Comal counties northeast of Canyon Lake.
“It’s in the crosshairs,” Francell said. “If you go a couple miles down the road, there’s a 5A high school. We’re very close to the [U.S.] 281 corridor, which is fast expanding between Austin and San Antonio.”
Hays County Commissioner Lon Shell told KXAN he’s heard concerns from neighbors in the area that turning the site into a recreation space will increase the amount of traffic and visitors, damaging the Hill Country escape.
The reservation system, Shell said, will limit the the number of visitors and the impact they have.
Generations of Texans will remember the El Rancho Cima Boy Scout camp, owned until recently by the Sam Houston Area Council of the Boy Scouts.
It operated for decades until the 2015 flood along the Blanco River destroyed several buildings along the banks, and the Boy Scout council sold the property to a group of investors.
Now they’ll sell a portion of the property to the Nature Conservancy. It encompasses more than a mile of the Blanco River, both banks, and hundreds of acres of forest about 18 miles west of San Marcos.
The woods are also prime golden-cheeked warbler habitat. The bird is endangered in part because of habitat loss around central Texas due to development.
The majority of the land is in Hays County, with a portion extending south into Comal County.
Growth and development
Hays and Comal counties both rank in the top ten fastest-growing counties in the U.S. over the last decade.
Hays County, No. 2 on the list, added more than 65,000 people between 2010 and 2018, an increase of nearly 42%, according to U.S. Census Bureau figures. Comal County ranks sixth, its population surging almost 37%, or about 40,000 people, in that time.
All the growth has conservationists worried the land, about an hour’s drive from Austin and San Antonio, is attractive to developers.
“I came out here as it was in the process of being sold a couple of times, and never could quite figure out exactly how we were going to save this place until Hays County stepped up,” Francell said.
The county’s portion of the cost comes from the bond voters approved in 2016. Primarily a transportation bond, it also included funds for conservation to help offset road construction.
The ultimate goal, both for the county and for the Nature Conservancy, is for county leaders to come up with the money to buy out the Conservancy’s portion in the next couple years and take full ownership.
It will likely be a couple years before the area is open to guests.