December 7, 2022 535 PM
BIG BEND NATIONAL PARK — The Big Bend Conservancy, a nonprofit organization which advocates on behalf of Big Bend National Park and acts as the park’s designated philanthropic partner, is expecting to close on a 3,815-acre land sale west of the park in early 2023 — that land will then be donated to the park, bringing to fruition the first part of a plan to expand the park’s boundary.
The sale has been in the works for a few years, but necessary funds for the purchase of the property, totaling $780,000, have now been raised by the conservancy, and the land is currently being surveyed before the final sale goes through sometime in the new year.
The land is being sold by the Fulcher family, who wished to conserve the property for future generations. Because the national park is unable to purchase land outside of its federal boundary, the conservancy is serving as the middleman in the land transfer. In order to facilitate the absorption of the land, federal legislation will have to be passed to alter the park’s boundaries. The park and conservancy were previously working with former U.S. Congressman Will Hurd towards the passage of such a bill, and are now working with the office of U.S. Congressman Tony Gonzales.
“I can’t say enough about the Fulcher family and their commitment to ensuring that this space became indefinitely preserved, because there’s so many development opportunities in the area — they very easily could have handed over the land to any number of developers,” said Loren Riemer, executive director and CEO of the Big Bend Conservancy.
The acquisition of the Fulcher property is the first phase in the conservancy’s ultimate goal to expand the park’s federal boundary by 6,000 total acres, nearly 4,000 of which will be made up by the Fulcher property. The chunk of land to be donated to the park is not a continuous plot. Riemer said the conservancy is in ongoing conversations with some surrounding landowners to potentially purchase their plots as well, many of which are currently unoccupied, but stressed that no land will be taken through eminent domain.
“There will be no case whereby any landowner in this area is forced to sell their property,” said Riemer.
Compared to the park’s 800,000-plus-acre expanse, the nearly 4,000 acres may not seem like much, said Riemer, but the conservancy believes the area is important to conserve for its natural features and proximity to the existing national park.
“All of the precious resources included in that space, I think, create a very important addition to the park,” said Reimer. “Especially being on that western boundary, where you see ever increasing development on that Terlingua, Study Butte side.”
The project is the conservancy’s landmark land acquisition project, she said, and the first of its kind since their founding in 1996. Riemer said both foundations and individual donors came together to make the purchase happen. The conservancy also held a fundraising event in Marfa earlier this year, which raised $80,000 for the cause.
“Working in partnership with the park to ensure we’re conserving this ecologically critical parcel of land for generations to come, protecting them from future development or degradation — I think really speaks to our mission as an organization,” said Riemer.
The property, which sits at the confluence of Rough Run and Terlingua Creek, was used briefly for ranching many, many years ago, said Riemer, and contains one minimally maintained county road, but for the most part is inaccessible.
In addition to containing significant watersheds and riparian areas, the property is also home to valuable paleontological resources and historic sites including ruins, farmlands, cemeteries, a schoolhouse and more.
Riemer said a potential cottonwood restoration project might be a good fit for the site. Birds including gray hawks and yellow-billed cuckoos currently reside on the property, as does an endangered minnow. “For us it’s a very ecologically critical piece of land,” said Reimer.
Park Superintendent Bob Krumenaker said in the eyes of the park, the additional acreage will help further protect important watersheds connected to the park as well as the significant fossil features found in the area.
“It protects four miles of Terlingua Creek, which is a critical watershed that then flows into the park and into the Rio Grande. Protecting that ecosystem for four more miles is really, really important,” said Krumenaker. “There’s some really significant geologic formations that are known to contain paleontological resources — in other words, fossils —and the park boundary currently runs right through that geologic formation.”
Krumenaker said the park is not currently planning to develop any public trails or infrastructure to the area and he does not anticipate the location receiving significant visitation. Once the land becomes a part of the national park, though, visitors will be welcome to access the area.
“If intrepid explorers want to explore that property, and conduct themselves as they would elsewhere in the national park, they’ll be encouraged to do so. But it’ll be a discovery experience for people,” said Krumenaker.