Big Bend State Park For Sale?

8-23-05 - State park officials are considering selling one-sixth of the flagship Big Bend Ranch State Park, the Austin American-Statesman reported Tuesday.

Texas Parks and Wildlife commissioners are to discuss the sale of 45,000 acres of the 300,000-acre park in a closed session Wednesday in Austin. The first public discussion and a vote by the commission could come Thursday.

Houston businessman John Poindexter confirmed he has been negotiating with the Parks and Wildlife Department. Poindexter, who owns the exclusive resort Cibolo Creek Ranch adjacent to the park, had no further comment.

Word of the talks has drawn criticism from a former parks commissioner who decried the possible sale and from an environmental advocate who called the secret preparations for a sale bad public policy.

Parks and Wildlife Executive Director Bob Cook said Monday that selling the odd-shaped land that juts out from the rest of the park could help the department square up the park's boundaries and simplify management of the vast desert site in West Texas.

The sale would provide money that could be used to buy some of the more than 25,000 acres of private holdings within Big Bend Ranch State Park, Cook said.

"It is a management nightmare having (private landowners) on your land," Cook said. "Our neighbor to the north inquired about it, and the staff came to me. We're trying to buy land from willing owners to square up the park, and that's the bottom line of the whole thing to me."

The sale would include a conservation easement for most of the property, requiring that it be kept in its current natural state, Cook said.

"There would be a small percentage that could be developed, for houses and things like that," he said.

Cook declined to comment on the price commissioners will consider.

He said an independent appraiser had been hired to study the property and had established values ranging from $65 per acre to $100 per acre, depending on the location of the land and the availability of water. The restrictions of the conservation easement typically reduce the price of such land by as much as 40 percent, Cook said.

Former Parks and Wildlife commissioner Bob Armstrong, who worked to have the state acquire the Big Bend property and protect it as a park, views the proposal with skepticism. Armstrong also is a former state land commissioner and former legislator.

"To trade this off would be a shame," Armstrong said.

The area has a spring known as the Cienega, and that has value beyond any money the department might acquire, Armstrong said.

"That's a very special place," he said.

Armstrong said the stovepipe shape of the northwest corner of the ranch was laid out in order to preserve the springs and creeks that make up the area.

Ken Kramer of the Sierra Club said what bothers him most is the secrecy surrounding the possible sale.

"To have something like this happen without public discussion is bad public policy," he said.

Cook said the parks department wasn't trying to hide the sale, only to protect the ongoing negotiations.