The Future of Conservation in Kendall County

Part One – By Brent Evans

“In the end our society will be defined not only by what we create, but by what we refuse to destroy.”
– John Sawhill, The Nature Conservancy

kids playingThe beauty of the Hill Country, “the Sweet Spot of Texas”, is its blessing and its curse. Being one of the “most desirable places to live” could attract enough newcomers to gradually grow a community into just another typical bustling American town, with little to distinguish it from thousands of others, losing its legacy trees and historic buildings, creeks and streams, pastures and thickets, hilltops and valleys, tamed into a commercial benefit zone – IF we are not careful. Big boxes and malls, billboards and signs, shouting for our attention, can overshadow what we all migrated here to enjoy.

The quality and quantity of our water supply will be our most vital conservation issue in the future, but there are others, like the preservation of historic buildings, scenic beauty, public parks and trails. Some fast growing communities have managed to get out ahead of development, and plan their futures with the active participation of their citizens. In the last decade our locals have been expressing their sentiments about this place they love, and helping guide policy makers toward something unique. Why not strive to be the greenest village in the Hill Country?

This would mean designing future neighborhoods and public works that compliment nature, rather than just moving it out of the way. Good connections for pedestrians, cyclists, and vehicles help. A prime example of smart planning is Boerne’s Patrick Heath Public Library, where the building and environment all work together and delight visitors. The Platinum LEED certification is something our town should be proud of.

We can raise our children and grandchildren in beautiful neighborhoods or asphalt mazes, and the choice is ours. The children will turn to electronic stimulation if their outside world is monotonous. Our kids need time in nature – not just in houses and schools and neighborhoods or athletic fields –nature, where they discover their own inner music and find their own sense of self. “Where will the children play?” Only where we leave them places to play.

We can provide active parks, like skate parks and ball fields, community gardens, and quiet refuges as well. And parks benefit all ages. Recent scientific studies have demonstrated that walks in nature are effective stress management practices, reducing brooding (when we can’t seem to stop chewing over the ways in which things are wrong with ourselves and our lives). The worrisome portion of the brain grows quieter in nature, showing reductions in stress, anger, anxiety, depression and sleeplessness.

The Kendall County Park system is now thriving, directed by Richard Tobolka, and the County continues to support its parks with funding and personnel. However, the county parks would not be what they are without the Kendall County Partnership for Parks. These folks get out and do – and have a good time doing it. Check out how you can join them: www.kendallcountyparks.org

In Boerne, Danny Zincke heads of the City Parks Department, which has an enormous variety of recreation opportunities available to the public: www.ci.boerne.tx.us/89/Parks-Recreation.

Groups such as the Native Plant Society help provide landscape assistance to the City. The Cibolo Nature Center coordinates many volunteer efforts in town including trail guides, summer camp counselors, monarch monitors, river watch, native plants, invasive plant control, gardening, rain water catchment, early childhood introduction to nature, kids in the creek, citizen science, beekeeping, birding activities, outreach to schools, and more.  www.cibolo.org

In the next ten years, I hope that we continue to adequately fund our parks departments to do the job well. Parks need help with restrooms and parking lots, and managing trails, and so much more. In financially hard times, parks budgets are often the first to be cut – sadly, because nothing helps hard times more than a quiet stroll in nature. We are lucky to have local governments who believe in their parks. We have well-kept trails, a renewed Greenway, Guadalupe River access, Boerne Lake, Herff Farm, County parks and natural areas, picnic grounds, and great places for folks to recreate.

Whatever passions you may pursue, you would be happier and healthier if you sauntered outdoors once in a while. Of course, in Texas, your timing has to be right – your brain could boil in August at mid-day. But, every day has some good times to connect with nature and meditate on something that is not man made.

Perhaps the best recreation just re-connects us with creation.

So, what do some of our community leaders think about conserving our natural resources on into the future? In the next segment we will hear selected voices from our community.


The Future of Conservation in Kendall County, Part Two – By Brent Evans

Here are some selected voices about future conservation efforts.

(I have had to edit for brevity.)

volunteersMayor Mike Schultz and Pamela Bransford, Public Relations Coordinator for the City of Boerne: “When Boerne’s founding fathers settled in this area, it was a wilderness with plenty of water, good hunting, and lush soil.  These hard working German settlers valued the land along the Cibolo Creek just as we value our hill country surroundings today.  Over the last one hundred and fifty years Boerne’s business and government leaders have worked hand in hand to create this special place through careful stewardship of the land.  Over time, development controls have been implemented to ensure a sustainable and prosperous future for this community.”

“Even today our community leaders continue their work to perpetuate a water culture that considers water priceless.  Using today’s technology we have new ways to conserve and capture water as well as keep our water clean.  Boerne Utilities has made a substantial investment in a new water reuse system to provide recycled water for outdoor water needs and conserve potable water resources.”

“We have an enviable quality of life in Boerne.  I believe that comes partly from our shared efforts to be respectful of our unique local conditions and from our effective collaborations to preserve and conserve.”

Darrell Lux, Kendall County Judge: “Out in the County, landowners and ranchers have a responsibility to everyone to tend to their land responsibly.  The practices of controlling the overgrowth of cedar naturally, deferring grazing, and the biological suppression of weeds and invasive species will encourage the growth of native grasses, enrich soil conditions and improve water and air quality.”

“Many ranchers in Kendall County have developed conservation stewardship plans with the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service and improved their grazing practices with the help of the NRCS and the Soil and Water Conservation District.  It is our aim as modern day ranchers to preserve the heritage of our fathers while using conservation practices to improve our land.”

“There will be no greater feeling than to pass on to my children the land my father left for me.  I want the grass to be tall, the water clear and the fields soft and fertile.”

John Eddie Vogt, Former Kendall County Judge: “All I can say is that the governmental agencies, along with a few private citizens, have let the Cibolo River (now called creek) go to hell in a basket.”

Ryan Bass, City of Boerne Upper Cibolo Watershed Planning: “Maintaining a high quality of life remains a priority for the City of Boerne.  The city continues to support watershed planning efforts aimed at improving local water quality conditions and will soon initiate water quality monitoring activities as part of the State’s Clean Rivers Program.”

Richard Elkins, Commissioner: “If one wants to make a long-term difference to the community’s Quality of Life, then CONSERVATION is the key for all of us to be able to enjoy nature’s offerings today and in the future, for generations to come. There is only one Earth.”

Tommy Pfeiffer, County Commissioner: “Water conservation through education and increased well spacing.”

Milan J. Michalec, President, Cow Creek Groundwater Conservation District: “With continued population increases, water conservation and land stewardship have become increasingly important factors in growing the existing water supply for tomorrow. To protect this future water is to protect the natural scenic beauty, the native wildlife and the local historic and cultural heritage of the Hill Country, all of which we owe to the clear-running water from the seeps and springs of the Trinity aquifer system.”

John Kight, Former County Commissioner:  “Population growth and pumping demands on the fragile Trinity Aquifer have all but dried up the springs in the Hill Country except for an unusual wet year. Water is the one resource that will limit our continued residential and commercial growth.  An extended drought will have dire consequences.  Life cannot go on without water. “

“One solution, however, is a properly designed rainwater harvesting system. Stand-alone rainwater harvesting systems could be the answer to continued depletion of groundwater or surface water resources.”

Ben Eldredge, Director of Education, Cibolo Nature Center: “I hope to see citizens take actions on their land that will help to capture and filter runoff while as well as creating wildlife habitat on land.  I also hope for sensible development strategies, including Low Impact Development and Conservation Development.”

Donna Taylor, Cibolo Nature Center: “We need to work harder and faster at conserving the earth’s natural resources and wild places.  I purposely say “the earth’s” because I have never been of the mindset that we, as humans, own them.  In the natural world, all things consumed are eventually re-utilized by something else, there is no waste.  We haven’t yet learned that lesson. We utilize resources but don’t give mindful consideration to what we are giving back in return.”

Suzanne Young: “In November, the Native Plant Society will conduct our 10th annual Bigtooth Maples for Boerne Tree Giveaway; to reintroduce this natural treasure into our local landscape, and to help make Boerne a premier destination for fall foliage viewing. Nature teaches us to be alert, inquisitive, and adventurous.  Nature rewards us with new discoveries that help keep us in the game.  The best reward of all is being part of this major league.  Share in the victory by sharing the earth.”

Brent Evans: Of course, while we, in our little utopian community of Boerne, can discuss well spacing, native tree planting, and parkland, some of the planet faces dire climate change challenges, from depletion of the oceans and pollution of the air, to the degradation of natural resources, and food and fuel shortages. Even our military, NASA, and FEMA are preparing for significant climate change.

NASA:  “Despite increasing awareness of climate change, our emissions of greenhouse gases continue on a relentless rise. Because we are already committed to some level of climate change, responding to climate change involves:

  1. Reducing emissions of and stabilizing the levels of heat-trapping greenhouse gases in the atmosphere – walking, riding bikes, and hybrid and electric cars can help;
  2. Adapting to the climate change already in the pipeline, like rainwater collection, recycling, native plant landscaping, and growing food locally.”

James Lovelock: inventor of the electron capture detector (which made possible the detection of DDT, CFCs and other atmospheric pollutants), and of the microwave oven. He recommends preparing for food shortages. Perhaps learning how to grow food in our backyards is not such a bad idea. “Humans are too stupid to prevent climate change from radically impacting on our lives over the coming decades. I don’t think we’re yet evolved to the point where we’re clever enough to handle a complex a situation as climate change,” said Lovelock. He anticipates great disasters before human beings wake up and act responsibly.

Gordon Maupin, Former President of the Association of Nature Center Administrators: “A nature center’s job is to prepare the next generation to inherit the earth, and make sure there is some earth left to inherit.”

Brent Evans: It seems that the real environmental challenge is not technological, or even logical. It is sociological – how do we get people to work with each other to come to the aid of an ailing planet? We can start by thinking globally, eating locally, and getting outside to play.

Pericles:  “What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.”