From the Pen of Carter P. Smith
There really wasn’t much funereal about it. It was a bluebird day outside, and people had come from far and wide to say their goodbyes to a man who loved nothing more than Texas’ lands, waters and parks. And, when the prayers had all been said, the eulogies all delivered, the sermon wrapped up and the tears all shed, someone announced it was time for song.
Not just any song, but one that captured the deceased man’s indomitable spirit, zest for the outdoors and love of life with rare perfection. And so we all grinned wide when the services concluded with a thunderous rendition of Woody Guthrie’s timeless folk hymn, This Land Is Your Land.
Don Kennard would have liked the deal.
For the uninitiated, Don Kennard was a native son who went on to serve his state proudly for 20 years as a member of both the state House of Representatives and Senate. He made his mark as a legislator in many ways, not the least of which was his sponsorship of a bill to fund state parks through a new penny tax on every pack of cigarettes sold. His colleagues told him he’d get their vote but likely lose his Senate seat because of it. They were right.
When he was summarily voted out of office in the 1970s over the tax hike, Sen. Kennard took a position at the LBJ School of Public Affairs leading the Natural Areas Survey project of Texas. The survey, which was led by the University of Texas in partnership with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Texas Historical Commission and General Land Office, set out to document some of the state’s wildest and most biologically and culturally rich natural areas. The hope was that some of those areas might ultimately be acquired to add to a system of public lands that needed a good dose of diversification.
Kennard and his team of archaeologists, biologists, botanists, cartographers, photographers, planners and land men tackled the project in earnest. Their reports documented irreplaceable landscapes like the Devils River and Devil’s Sinkhole, Blue Elbow Swamp and Matagorda Island, and the Solitario and Victorio Canyon. They made the case that some places were so utterly and intrinsically important ecologically that they should be set aside permanently to preserve the natural history and cultural heritage that Texans treasure about their home ground.
Kennard transmitted each of his team’s 13-some-odd reports in letters to a series of Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission chairmen, all with the same hopeful refrain:
“Texas is a diverse and beautiful land with a rich heritage and abundant natural and scientific wonders that should be preserved for the use and enjoyment of ourselves and of generations yet to come. As you pointed out in requesting this survey, our more significant natural areas are disappearing all too rapidly in Texas. It is our hope that the data gathered here will be instrumental in reversing that trend.”
Today, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department proudly stewards most of the special places explored and cataloged by Kennard and his team. In his honor, we plan to place a plaque at all state natural areas in the state park system memorializing his irreplaceable contributions to the lands and waters he loved so.
Thanks for caring about our wild things and wild places. As Don Kennard would no doubt tell you, they need you now more than ever.