Park Pick: Take a Step Back in Time
Ranching heritage lives on at Hill Country State Natural Area.
By Tara Humphreys
The land is to be “kept far removed and untouched by modern civilization, where everything is preserved intact, yet put to a useful purpose.”
That’s what Louise Lindsey Merrick, owner of the Bar-O Ranch, requested when she donated portions of her land over a seven-year period to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. First opened to the public in 1984, Hill Country State Natural Area has more than 5,300 acres where visitors can get away from it all. Located just 11 miles from Bandera, the self-proclaimed “Cowboy Capital of the World,” this secluded Hill Country retreat offers picturesque views, multi-use trails, primitive camping and more.
Hill Country State Natural Area balances protecting its natural and cultural resources and offering great recreational opportunities. Trail riding is one of the most popular activities — if you don’t have your own horse, you can contact local outfitters for a rustic experience on horseback.
While the traditional ranching lifestyle may be disappearing, you don’t have to look far for clues to the past at Hill Country State Natural Area. After you enter the park, you’ll pass by the two-story ranch house, which dates back to 1892. Look for ranching implements like antique balers and tractors next to the headquarters building, and hunt for history along the trails.
On Saturday, Oct. 20, you can experience ranch history at Ranch Heritage Day, an annual open-house event co-sponsored by the park and the park’s friends group, Hill Country State Natural Area Partners.
“We will provide a variety of recreational activities that are compatible with conservation of the park resources,” Superintendent Paul David Fuentes says. “There will be activities about ranching and the animals that made up the day-to-day life of the cowboy.”
Equestrians can kick off the day with a trail ride, followed by events in the horse arena like drill teams, ranch skills demonstrations and competitive skills showmanship. Storytellers, horse trainers, singers, historians and others will be on hand to portray authentic ranching life. This free event runs from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., with concessions available.
From Bandera, travel south on Texas Highway 173, go across the Medina River and continue for approximately a quarter-mile to Ranch Road 1077. Turn right on Ranch Road 1077 and go 10 miles to the end of the blacktop. Continue on the caliche road and follow the park signs to the park headquarters. For more information, visit www.texasstateparks.org or call (830) 796-4413.
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