Rep. Hurd files bill to expand Big Bend National Park

TRI-COUNTY — Last week, The Big Bend Sentinel reported that Big Bend National Park hoped to expand its boundaries by buying and incorporating land near Terlingua.

At a Brewster County Commissioners Court meeting, advocates for the plan said that they’d found some possible land for the expansion and had also spoken to neighboring land owners, all of whom were supportive of the park’s purchase. But to make the plan official, they explained, they’ll need approval from Congress.

Now, Congressman Will Hurd is hoping to get that approval. Last Thursday, Hurd filed H.R. 8093, also known as a bill to “to adjust the boundary of Big Bend National Park in the State of Texas, and for other purposes.”

The bill would approve the Terlingua land sale from the current owners of the Fulcher ranch — increasing Big Bend National Park by 6,100 acres — while also allowing future landowners “to fulfill their dream of incorporating their land into Big Bend National Park.” At press time, congressional records show the bill had been introduced but has not yet seen a vote.

Hurd has served since 2015 as the U.S. representative for Texas’s 23rd Congressional District — a diverse border district that’s often considered one of the most competitive districts in the country. Last year, the congressman announced he was retiring.

Hurd, who’s often positioned himself as a moderate and bipartisan lawmaker, seems to be using his final months in office to push the creation of new parks and landmarks and for the expansion of existing ones. In a statement to The Big Bend Sentinel last month, Hurd publicly threw his weight behind the idea of making Marfa’s Blackwell School a landmark, saying that the site “belongs in a national place of honor like the catalogue of outstanding American places.” He said Blackwell was “one of the first schools in West Texas to educate Latinos” and therefore “owns a unique piece of history.”

Hurd currently represents eight national parks and historic sites, the largest of which is Big Bend. But as Hurd argued in his previous statement, “it is time to make Blackwell School number nine.”

In his efforts to expand Big Bend, Hurd appears to be leaning on the same philosophy. In a statement about the new bill, he described Big Bend National Park as an “iconic piece of America” that, through an expansion, could “give Americans even more area to respect and appreciate.”

“This boundary change would protect the very rare and unique Terlingua Watershed, some of the most important fossil bearing rocks in Big Bend and ruins of pioneer homesteads of both Anglos and Hispanics,” Hurd continued in his statement. “I hope my colleagues will support this legislation that will preserve some of America’s most beautiful land for future generations to appreciate.”

In an interview on Monday, Bob Krumenaker, the superintendent for Big Bend National Park, declined to offer his opinion on Hurd’s bill, citing laws that prevent federal employees from commenting on pending legislation. He described the bill, if passed, as a “first step” in a “multi-step process” that would allow the park to not only incorporate these Terlingua lands, but also add more properties in the future if other landowners also wanted to sell.

Krumenaker stressed that any such transactions were entirely voluntary. And while he couldn’t comment on the specific bill, he did say that expanding the park in general could further protect West Texas lands for residents and visitors, including the “very rare perennial watershed” at Terlingua Creek.

“These lands have resources that are valuable to the national park,” he said. “We would be delighted if this acquisition were to take place, so that these lands could be protected for the American people.”