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2019 Leadership Summit: Conservation in the Heart of Texas

2019 Leadership Summit Photos

2019 Leadership Summit Sponsors

For questions about sponsoring the 2020 Leadership Summit, contact Amy Crowell at

2018 Leadership Summit

Thank you to all who joined us on September 27, 2018 at Camp Lucy in Dripping Springs, TX for our annual Hill Country Alliance Leadership Summit!  More than 160 folks came out for our day-long summit to share, learn, network, strategize, and be inspired by the possibilities for the conservation of our Texas Hill Country.


For the sessions with presentations, PDF versions can be found as hyperlinks connected to our speakers’ names, below.

Land Use and our Rural Counties

Will Conley, Chair, Capital Area Metro Planning Organization

One Water and Hill Country Water Supplies

Sarah Richards, Water Program Officer, Cynthia & George Mitchell Foundation

Ian Taylor, CEO, New Braunfels Utility

Lee Butler, Building Services Manager, Austin Central Library

Texas Water Policy: Culture, Myths, and the Future of Water in the Hill Country

Seamus McGraw, Author, A Thirsty Land

Charlie Flatten (moderator), Water Program Manager, Hill Country Alliance

Milan Michalec, Board President, Cow Creek Groundwater Conservation District

Vanessa Puig-Williams, Executive Director, Trinity Edwards Springs Protection Association

Handing on the Reins: Private Landownership Through the Generations 

Francine Romero, Associate Dean College of Public Policy, University of Texas San Antonio

Ryland and Isabell Howard, Landowners, Head of the River Ranch

Jeff and Julie Lewey, Landowners, Open V Ranch

Edge of Night: From the Global to the Local

Bettymaya Foott, Engagement Director, International Dark Sky Association

Shannon du Plessis, Chair, Wimberley Valley Dark Sky Committee

Collaboration and the Texas Hill Country Conservation Network

Katherine Romans, Executive Director, Hill Country Alliance


A full agenda can be found here

2017 Leadership Summit

Thank you to all who joined us for the 2017 Hill Country Alliance Leadership Summit, September 21, 2017! See below for a recap of the event, photos, and links to the speaker presentations.

2017 Hill Country Alliance Leadership Summit Draws Crowd with Message of Inclusion and Storytelling

On September 21st, conservation leaders from across the Texas Hill Country met at Camp Lucy in Dripping Springs for the Hill Country Alliance’s Annual Leadership Summit. The event theme, From Local to Regional: The Shared Story of the Texas Hill Country, brought together more than 190 participants to learn about conservation strategies such as collaboration and story-telling to solve complex natural resource problems.

Jim Blackburn, president of the Trinity Edwards Springs Protection Association (TESPA), kicked off the summit by highlighting the legal and cultural challenges facing water conservation in the region. “If the springs don’t flow, our public property—the surface water—is taken from us.” Blackburn noted that Texas law does not acknowledge the connection between surface and groundwater; the law, he emphasized, needs to be changed. Such changes will require the Hill Country conservation community to be increasingly more creative.

Next, Francine Romero, professor at University of Texas-San Antonio and HCA board member, moderated a panel discussion focused on the linkage between land and water protection. Panelists—including Brigid Shea, Travis County Commissioner; Blair Fitzsimons, CEO of Texas Agricultural Land Trust; Susan Courage, with the City of San Antonio’s Edwards Aquifer Protection Program; and Todd Figg, Uvalde County landowner—discussed their challenges and success stories.

“We are faced with a crisis of land ownership,” noted Fitzsimons. Keeping families on the land to continue generations of stewardship helps protect land and water resources. As Figg, a landowner, attested properties are being sold and subdivided across the Hill Country. Successful models of land and water conservation can be found across our region, and pooling a greater variety of public and private funds can make conservation affordable for the people that work the land.

The keynote speaker of the day was Dr. Betty Sue Flowers, professor emeritus from the University of Texas at Austin and former director of the LBJ Presidential Library. Dr. Flowers’ presentation focused on the importance of storytelling in building shared understanding around complicated problems. As Flowers pointed out, the future is only a story—it can be changed and shaped in dramatic ways, and ultimately our understanding of the present is influenced by the story we are telling about the future.

Flowers urged attendees to bring non-traditional partners together to create a shared vision of the future.  “It’s the space between science and passion where we are at our best,” commented Flowers, who then asked, “How do we tell stories together that incorporate diversity? How do we go forward together respecting everyone’s individual story while creating a wider, deeper, shared one together?” To do so, we must draw from one another’s stories and create shared power in the process.

The afternoon was capped by stories of successes from around Central and West Texas. Bill Wren, from the McDonald Observatory, underscored the importance of deep running stories about the night skies of Texas in educating everyone from tourists to oil refinery workers about light pollution. Wren noted, “We have a sense of pride to appeal to for protecting the night skies around the observatory.”

Shifting from the night skies to land stewardship, Cathy Downs from Monarch Watch shared a story of numerous partners—landowners, businesses, and government agencies at the local, state, and federal level—working together to save Monarch Butterflies. “The Hill Country is in a unique position, at the confluence of the migratory pathways, both north and south.” By adding milkweed and nectar plants to the Hill Country, we are creating an enhanced food web that supports over 4 million monarchs.

Garry Merritt, Real County Judge and Hill Country Alliance board president, discussed the process for creating a comprehensive plan for Real County. When beginning such an ambitious process, Merritt noted, “You can’t get there from here. You have to first develop respect and trust; only then can you begin to develop a shared vision and path for how to get there.”

Author Wes Ferguson brought it all home as he shared stories and images from his new book about the Blanco River. “Texas rivers are always changing,” Ferguson observed. This change goes far beyond the flow in the channel to include the inhabitants that live along and shape the health of our river basins. As Flowers noted, our challenge and opportunity is to create a shared story that is wider, deeper, and creates more power in our discussions of stewardship.

The day concluded with breakout conversations and shared inspirational success stories that illuminated opportunities for collaboration between groups and individuals. “The biggest takeaway is the immense opportunity represented by a room full of passionate individuals, like what we have seen today,” commented Katherine Romans, executive director of the Hill Country Alliance. “We can be successful by bringing diverse perspectives together to find a common vision for the Hill Country.”

To learn more about the Leadership Summit, visit the HCA webpage at and please stay engaged with news, events and developments by subscribing to the Hill Country Alliance newsletter.

Download Presentations from the 2017 Leadership Summit

Protecting the Surface Water of the Hill Country – Jim Blackburn

Hope in Shared Stories: Building Futures Together – Betty Sue Flowers (for a copy of Betty Sue Flowers’ Presentation, please email

The Stars at Night, Deep in the Heart of Texas  – Bill Wren

How the Hill Country Landscape Affects Monarch Butterfly Populations – Cathy Downs

Building Strong Hill Country Communities: A Real County Case Study – Garry Merritt

Telling the Story of the Blanco – Wes Ferguson

Landscape Scale Collaborative Networking – Katherine Romans

Photos from the 2017 Leadership Summit
(Click on photo to open slideshow)

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Download Presentations from the 2016 Summit:

Private Land Stewardship: The Road Ahead – David Yeates, CEO—Texas Wildlife Association.
Texas Landscape Project: Nature and People – Jonathan Ogren and David Todd, Authors
The Edge of Night – Ken Kattner, Owner – Putnum Mountain Observatory
The Edge of Night – Doug Cochran, Park Superintendent—Enchanted Rock State Natural Area
Hill Country Connectivity: A Network Approach to Working TogetherPatrick Bixler, Research Fellow—RGK Center for Philanthropy and Community Service, LBJ School of Public Affairs, UT Austin.
10 Years of the Hill Country Alliance: Measuring SuccessKatherine Romans, Executive Director—Hill Country Alliance
Simple Solutions; Lovely Outcomes. Creating Communities People Love – Matt Lewis, President—Simple City Design
Historical Ecology of the Texas Hill Country – Lisa O’Donnell, Senior Biologist, City of Austin