A Ranch for Raising Kids
Celebrating 50 years of helping youngsters at Parrie Haynes Ranch.
By Martha Underwood
Eddie Jasso is helping excited boys corner a field mouse when I first meet this group from El Paso. They are participating in a youth hunt over Christmas vacation at Parrie Haynes Ranch. “My life changed when I met these men and got involved in the outdoors with them,” 15-year-old Steven Rodriguez tells me.
The Serna Ranch Youth Leadership Program is the result of Jasso and his friend Jaime “Slim” Salas overcoming life-threatening medical challenges and deciding to use their second shot at life to help kids who have few opportunities. The men take young people on camping, fishing, hunting and volunteer work excursions. Before Serna, Steven says, his life in the city revolved around electronics, but now he understands more about wildlife and knows there is another world outdoors, a beautiful one. “I meet new people, see what the rest of Texas is like, and now feel better about myself,” he says.
These are common themes children share as I talk with many groups visiting the 4,525-acre Parrie Haynes Ranch, located 13 miles southwest of Killeen in the Texas Hill Country. Texas Parks and Wildlife Department operates the ranch as a group multi-use facility and requires a reservation.
“We typically do not do programs,” says Karl Cloninger, ranch director. “We provide facilities, lodging and meals.” The ranch is part of TPWD’s urban outdoor initiative, trying to give groups adventures and learning experiences in the Texas outdoors.
Opportunities at the ranch seem endless, whether it is paddling the Lampasas River in a borrowed kayak, climbing a tree, or enjoying the sky full of stars away from city lights.
At the Keepin’ It Real retreat, Farrell Matthews, 16, says the activities at the ranch completely captured his attention. He never missed watching TV or using a cell phone for three days, he says. Keepin’ It Real is the brainchild of Rose and Lamar Collins of Temple. “We are trying to teach them to be something in life. It does not matter where you came from,” says Rose. “We expect greatness from our youth.” Besides lively speakers, crafts and individual goal counseling, their students explore the nearby woods and river. Jasmine Lewis, 17, likes seeing deer grazing and found a small animal skull while wandering through the fields and woodlands. But her biggest pleasure, she says, is spending time with the other girls and learning to deal with people better.
A popular destination for youth groups is Fuller’s Waterhole, a deeply eroded bowl and rock overhang that is fed by a clear stream. “It’s clean, peaceful and hearing the waterfall is soothing,” says Reid Williams, 15, during a backpacking weekend at the ranch. His Boy Scout troop from Georgetown is practicing for a trip to Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico. But today’s hike ends at the waterhole. “We are going to camp there tonight and swim,” he says.
The scouts are not the only ones preparing for a backpacking adventure. One breezy, overcast April day I visit a C-5 Youth Foundation group of 15-year-olds, getting ready for a trek to Ivy Mountain several miles away on ranch property. During the weekend, they use teamwork and personal initiative to overcome obstacles and learn primitive survival skills. One big lesson learned: It can be colder than you expect, so bring everything on your packing list, says Travis Head, assistant program director.
Rustic hilltop facilities at the ranch are donated by C-5, formerly called Camp Coca Cola Foundation. These include nine cabins, two residences, a 160-seat dining hall on a bluff overlooking the Lampasas River valley, a pavilion, a swimming pool and improvements to the ropes course. The C-5 vision is to provide programs to develop high-potential teens with limited resources into self-confident young adults motivated to get a college education and become leaders in their communities.
A favorite C-5 activity for developing these skills is the ropes challenge course. On the giant swing, called the screamer, campers hoist a harnessed student with a cable and pulley system attached to a 40-foot pole. When the student is as high as he or she wishes to go, a quick release causes the youngster to swing back and forth during descent, usually screaming with joy (or trepidation). “The challenge course tells you what you are made of,” says Bradley Ruff, 15, with a grin.
The teens also apply learned lessons at home. “I help people more often. I try to accept people as they are and not judge them,” 15-year-old Miesha Edelen explains to me. She also pushes through the challenges of school and grades and even does household chores, like laundry and cleaning.
Youngsters enjoy hearing stories of pioneer life and visiting the log cabin built by an itinerant Baptist preacher named Mr. Priddy. This dog-run style cabin near Gann Branch is the house where his daughter, Sara Elizabeth Priddy Yost (1856-1954), gave birth to and raised her six children during the turbulent, post-Civil War decades. One winter night, Sara got up to stoke the wood fire when a big rattlesnake fell out of the rafters onto the bed. “She swept him off the bed, chopped him up and went back to sleep,” recalls Sally Walden, her great-granddaughter. “People were tough back then.” Visiting this cabin is like stepping into history, Cat Camacho, 15, tells me. “You learn about the land and how things came to be, then this becomes your home,” she says.
Another historic building is Allen and Parrie Haynes’ ranch house. After World War II, Allen Haynes (1872-1953) bought several condemned buildings from Camp Hood to salvage lumber for a new house. He had it painted black with white trim. When Sally Walden visited her relatives in this house, she remembers finding goats standing on the piano and fireplace mantel. “They kept the doors and windows open in summer and did not care who walked in,” says Walden, who is also Parrie Haynes’ grandniece. To heat their home in winter, the Haynes preferred a push log, she says. They put one end of a 10-foot branch or tree trunk into the fireplace and pushed it in further as the end burned. This house currently has a rock exterior and is the residence of the ranch director.
Parrie McBryde (1873-1957) married William Allen Haynes in 1895. They began life as poor tenant farmers with nothing but a cow pony named Bogus. Allen turned out to be a risk-taker who loved buying ranch land on borrowed money. Their holdings eventually totaled more than 8,000 acres in western Bell and nearby counties. Allen eventually became president and later chairman of the board of First National Bank of Killeen. The Haynes loved children but never had their own.
After Allen died, Parrie Haynes remained thrifty. Her one concession to wealth and widowhood was to buy a black-and-white television to keep her company in declining health. Haynes survived another four years, eventually succumbing to gangrene at the Georgetown hospital after refusing to have her leg amputated.
Originally, Parrie Haynes bequeathed this ranch to the orphans of Texas, says Cloninger. She wanted to give youngsters with a rough childhood some joy and a lift toward a productive adult life. As orphanages gave way to foster parenting, the ranch and accompanying endowment became the responsibility of the Texas Youth Commission, the state’s juvenile justice system. In 1992 TPWD leased the property to develop youth outdoor adventure opportunities. Walden, who is Parrie Haynes’ great-niece, says she is pleased that TPWD is running the ranch. “This is best for all Texas children and reaches a lot more kids than Aunt Parrie envisioned,” Walden says.
Though group visits to Parrie Haynes Ranch require a reservation, the ranch will be open to the public on October 13, 2007. Ranch tours, food and many activities will be available during the noon to 4 p.m. celebration honoring Parrie Haynes.
Ranch tours may include “The Big Tree,” a live oak whose trunk circumference is 22 feet, 4 inches. This tree is arguably the second-largest live oak in the state of Texas. (The biggest, measuring 35 feet in circumference, is at Goose Island State Park in Rockport.) Inside the leafy canopy are huge branches above a dirt floor, corrugated by the ancient roots of this 400- to 600-year-old dowager.
Fifty miles of trails, built by the Texas Equestrian Trail Riders Association, provide opportunities for horseback riding, mountain biking and hiking. At the group’s spring clinic, Susie Grelle says, “I saw a horned owl yesterday. This is the most gorgeous place to ride.” Grelle, a Waco resident, also encounters wild turkey, skunk, rattlesnakes, deer, raccoon and opossum on her frequent visits. The ranch is home to a wide variety of birds, including the endangered golden-cheeked warbler and black-capped vireo. A hundred or more additional species may be seen during the spring and fall migratory seasons.
This facility offers campsites with electricity and water, horse pens, a clubhouse with commercial kitchen, meeting rooms, a large brick-covered patio and two camp toilets that are accessible to people in wheelchairs. Several im-provement projects are ongoing. More informational signs will be added on the trails, and a map that can be used in conjunction with a GPS device is being developed. “It’s easy to get lost on 4,500 acres, especially when you go three or four miles,” Perry says.
It’s easy for teens to get lost on the road to adulthood, too. Many more will find their way, thanks to the staff and volunteers at Parrie Haynes Ranch.
Parrie Haynes can be booked for family reunions, weddings, church gatherings, retreats and corporate events. Call (254) 554-3970 for information and reservations.