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 Texas : Features : Columns : "Letters from Central Texas"

ACRES AND ACRES OF ACRES
Hill Country State Natural Area

by Clay Coppedge
The Hill Country State Natural Area is one of those places you have to be going to get there; no one goes there by mistake, unless they're lost and find themselves running out of pavement at the end of State Highway 1077.

At the end of the dirt road is 5,400 acres of nothing but 5,400 acres of nothing but pristine Hill Country, just as former owner Louise Lindsey Merrick, a local rancher, wanted it when she began donating land to the state in 1976.

Under provisions of a contract with Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, the land was to "be kept far removed and untouched by modern civilization, where everything is preserved intact, yet put to a useful purpose."

In that spirit, the land debuted as a state natural area in 1984 and has changed little in that time, just as it had changed little since before the Comanches first rode into Central Texas. Park manager Paul Fuentes has added fire rings and some picnic tables, but nothing to dilute the essential purity of the place.

"We've been careful not to add anything that will detract from the spirit of the place," Fuentes said on a recent visit. "This is for people looking for a primitive outdoor experience. It's geared for people who don't need a lot."

Other than making reservations, Fuentes' most important advice to potential visitors is, "If you think you need it, bring it."

The main feature of the park is a 36-mile system of trails used by hikers, bicyclists and horseback riders. The hikers and bikers are relative newcomers but the has been used by equestrians since it first opened in 1984. Horses are still made to feel welcome at Hill Country, just so long as the owner has proof of a negative coggins test.

Horses and the people who ride them are still made to feel at home with an equestrian group camp, individual equestrian camps and a day-use staging area. The equestrian group camp has a two-acre shaded area with a large barn, concrete floor and electricity.

The individual sites have a two-horse corral, table, fire ring and pull-through truck/trailer parking. A water tank and a primitive toilet are close by. Reservations are required for the group camp and strongly recommended for the individual equestrian camps.

An equestrian camping and day use staging area is offered on a first-come, first serve basis.

Despite the horse-friendly accommodations, Hill Country SNA is more than your basic one-trick pony of park.

"People who come here for the first time are a little surprised to find out there's other things you can do here," Fuentes says.

Bandera came to prominence as a staging area during the days of the cattle drives a gathering point to begin that long journey up the Chisholm Trail.

Since then Bandera has become known for its ranches as well as the number of championship rodeo cowboys who learned to rope and ride in Bandera County. It's one of those rare places where it's possible to play cowboy or be a real one.

The last time I was there a visitor from Michigan, who wasn't dressed to play cowboy, said he had a powerful hankering to see a black-capped vireo. Fuentes directed him to a place where the bird could be heard, but made no promised about seeing one.

"There's lot of other interesting birds here," Fuentes said. "Vermilion flycatchers, painted buntings, red-tailed hawks." The visitor moseyed off in search of the black-capped vireo.

White-tailed deer and wild turkey inhabit the park in large numbers; the wild turkey are moving through the park in good numbers now and can sometimes be spotted in open meadows of the park. Coyotes, bobcats and ringtail cats also live in the park, though your chances of actually viewing these critters are slim to none.

The trails are closed when it rains, so it's a good idea to call ahead for a weather forecast and an update on trail conditions before making the drive.

Clay Coppedge
"Letters from Central Texas"
June 1 , 2007 Column

Hill Country State Natural Area Information

10600 Bandera Creek Rd
Bandera TX 78003
830/796-4413

In Bandera and Medina Counties
45 miles NW of San Antonio

See Bandera Texas
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