Texas Parks & Wildlife Magazine   


December cover image
From the Pen of Carter P. Smith

Christmas came a little early this year for the coast. It was August, in fact, when a consortium including the Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the Nature Conservancy, the Conservation Fund and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department teamed up to announce the single largest conservation purchase that Texas has ever seen. And what a deal it was.

The cause for celebration was the acquisition of the fabled Powderhorn Ranch, a stunning 17,351-acre coastal gem adjoining the sportsman’s paradise of Port O’Connor. As picturesque and evocative as its name suggests, the Powderhorn is one of those historic coastal Texas ranches, steeped in beauty, diversity, nature and heritage. 

From its oak-studded shorelines, one can literally chronicle the passage of Texas history and settlement. From the landing of Cabeza de Vaca to the wreckage of La Belle to the arrival of the German immigrants at Indianola to the pounding of Hurricane Carla at Port O’Connor, the shores of the Powderhorn have seen and weathered many a ship, many a sailor and many a storm.

The ranch sits perched on the protruding Calhoun Peninsula, underlain by deep sands and interspersed with sprawling, wind-sculpted live oaks and expansive native prairies. The uplands are pockmarked with hundreds of shallow freshwater wetlands. Its perimeter is ringed by the oyster- and seagrass-laden waters and bayous of Matagorda Bay and the eponymous Powderhorn Lake. Fish and game abound there. If you are looking for a special place on the coast, the Powderhorn is surely one of them.

It’s a special place because of its rich diversity of habitats, unique and endemic plant life, and importance for species from whooping cranes to waterfowl to migratory songbirds to fish of all kinds. For decades, fish and wildlife enthusiasts had hoped to see the historic ranch preserved for future generations of Texans.

Following the Depression, the ranch was stewarded for 70 or so years by a prominent ranching family out of San Antonio. Ultimately, the ranch was sold and passed along to a succession of other owners. With each sale, fears escalated about what would happen to the fabled Powderhorn and its miles of frontage along Matagorda Bay and Powderhorn Lake. Those fears were laid to rest when an innovative public-private partnership was forged to acquire and raise the funds necessary to purchase the property from a conservation-minded seller.

The silver lining came in the form of nearly $35 million in criminal penalty funds entrusted with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation following the Deepwater Horizon incident. Ultimately, the plans are for the property to end up with the TPW Foundation and then on to TPWD, where it will become a combination state park and wildlife management area. We can hardly wait.

This year at Christmas, we will celebrate many things in our state parks. We’ll herald the lighting of the tree at LBJ State Park, enjoy the Trail of Lights and cider at Monument Hill and Kreische Brewery, walk through the pines at Martin Creek Lake and celebrate a Sailor’s Christmas on the Battleship Texas.

We’ll also be sure and raise a toast to the Powderhorn and those who brought Christmas to the coast and to the state a few months early.

Thanks for caring about our wild things and wild places. They need you now more than ever. 

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from all your friends at Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

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