Plans for publicly-accessible grassland trail led by Judd Foundation still underway

The Judd Foundation recently partnered with Texas Parks and Wildlife to modify fencing on its 30-acre property south of town to ensure free movement of native pronghorn. Pictured, from left, Judd Foundation employees Jesus Dominguez, Rico Roman and Randy Sanchez. Photo credit: Sarah M. Vasquez. Courtesy Judd Foundation.

MARFA — Plans to turn 30 acres of land owned by the Judd Foundation south of town into a publicly-accessible trail focusing on grassland conservation originally announced in March 2022 are still underway. While progress is somewhat slow-going, solicitation of public feedback and a deed restriction on the land have occurred. 

The purpose of the project is to provide a trail-like experience of the area’s grasslands — the landscape Marfa is known for, but the majority of its citizens cannot access due to the prevalence of private ranchland.

“There aren’t many opportunities to get out on the land,” said Peter Stanley, director of operations and preservation for the Judd Foundation. “It’s about being out in this grassland ultimately.” 

The 30-acre parcel is slender, running east to west, and is located off of Pinto Canyon Road less than half a mile outside of Marfa city limits, a popular walking and biking area. 

The land neighbors the Chinati Foundation to the north and east and was once a part of Fort D.A. Russell. Stanley said the land was never a part of Chinati, and so far he has not been able to find any specific plans Donald Judd had for the site.

Upon launching the project, Judd Foundation partnered with the Big Bend Conservation Alliance (BBCA) for a series of focus groups to discover what the citizens of Marfa would like the site to look like. Those surveyed include elders, parents, teachers and more. 

Focus groups indicated that bathrooms, drinking water, shade, parking, and an accessible path were desired. Families requested kid-friendly educational signage. Other predominant sentiments included making the site as accessible and welcoming as possible and designing it for both socializing and contemplation. 

Stanley said Judd Foundation will now look at the focus group findings and begin to craft the level of public accessibility for the site. For now, frequency — open hours and days — and degree of access — fully open versus a focus on guided walks and public programs — are still up in the air, he said. 

“We need to, on our end, look at the information that was gathered by BBCA and overlay it onto our mission and our goals, and figure out where all those align and — based on the progress of the state of the land — what public access can really look like,” said Stanley.

It comes down to balancing meeting public needs for amenities while prioritizing protection of the land, he said. “They’re understandable requests or desires,” said Stanley. “But we also have to look at how we can accommodate those and meet our own goals for the land itself, with the preservation of the land being the foremost concern.” 

Judd Foundation also hired various consultants to weigh in on the project, including Nakaya Flotte who is from Presidio-Ojinaga and has contributed to the Lipan Apache Cemetery project. Flotte submitted recommendations for land acknowledgement text as well as signage that represents Indigenous perspectives.

The next main phase of the project, said Stanley, will be the restoration of the land itself, which is currently overrun with invasive species. Judd Foundation will put together a restoration plan and seek grant funding to remove mesquite, creosote and more. 

“The land requires some conservation work, quite frankly. It was part of the fort, and while it was at the very edge, it still has suffered some degradation, and invasive species and whatnot have moved in,” said Stanley. 

The site is home to desirable native grassland species including blue grama, side oats grama and more the foundation hopes to cultivate, said Stanley. Vestiges of the land’s past life as a military fort, like old roadways, remain and could act as future walking paths, said Stanley. 

A deed restriction was placed on the land to ensure it will not be developed and will be preserved in its natural state, helping protect native plants and animals in perpetuity. Judd Foundation has recently partnered with neighboring landowners and Texas Parks and Wildlife to make modifications to the land’s fence line to ensure native pronghorn are able to roam freely. 

Stanley acknowledged that restoring the 30 acres is going to take longer than originally thought, likely stretching into years, but land conservation initiatives at Casa Perez — Judd’s ranch further south that is equivalent in size — have taken precedence. He said it is possible the 30-acre site will be folded into public programs in the future to sustain public engagement in the project.