Plans for limited public access to part of a conservation easement owned by the late Gay Ruby Dahlstrom moved one step closer to completion Thursday.
By breaking ground on the Gay Ruby Dahlstrom Preserve, Hays County officials hope to eventually open the 384-acre project, located within the Dahlstrom Family Ranch on FM 967, by late summer 2018.
The preserve will feature a 3.15-mile walking trail, with .75 miles that is American Disabilities Act (ADA) compliant. According to a press release, the preserve, once open, will be under management of the Hays County Parks Department.
Thursday’s groundbreaking is one of the final parts of a process that took roughly a decade to complete and involved a handful of entities and agencies.
Cecilia Dahlstrom-Barrantine, daughter of Gay Dahlstrom, said her mother loved the connection the family’s 2,254-acre property gave to her heritage and the environment, of which she wanted to share and preserve.
While there will be public access to the preserve, officials will limit the number of persons on the land at any one time to minimize human impact, according to a Hays County press release.
“It’s a deeply held belief in our family that nature serves as a portal that moves us from the rush of every day life to a world where time slows down,” Dahlstrom-Barrantine said. “In this fast paced life, we need the physical, emotional and spiritual refreshment and balance found only when spending time outside.”
Frank Davis, director of land conservation at the Hill Country Conservancy, said Gay Dahlstrom was a “true visionary” in coming up with the preserve concept.
Davis said there is no conservation easement in the state that is overlaid with some public access.
“She was the one who told us from the beginning, ‘there must be some access on this ranch. We must find a way to commune with nature in a way these folks are forgetting to do in these modern times,’” Davis said. “We are forever indebted in all she did and protecting and setting this vision for us.”
The preserve is also a reminder of what Hays County once was many years ago, Davis said. That includes its grasslands and recharge features into the Edwards Aquifer.
Davis said the ability to experience natural land is imparitive as 95 percent of Texas is privately owned.
“The Dahlstroms addressed that directly,” Davis said. “People can come out to a place like this and truly get a sense of being away and settling into the rhythms of nature and slowing down.”
Former Hays County Pct. 2 Commissioner Jeff Barton said he was approached in 2007 regarding the preserve proposal. Barton said the Dahlstrom family had a vision of “doing something spectacular and special on this piece of land.”
While getting to the groundbreaking meant traversing a “tightrope” at times, including navigating legalities and financing, Barton said residents are “seeing the harvest ripening from all that work.”
Barton also believed the preserve is a celebration of community as well.
“Gay decided she could trust this crazy patchwork quilt of people that could put this project together and that she could walk that tightrope with us,” Barton said.
Current Pct. 2 Commissioner Mark Jones thanked taxpayers who approved the county’s 2008 Parks Bond. In 2010, Hays County, with help from the Hill Country Conservancy, Texas Parks and Wildlife, and the city of Austin, purchased three conservation easements to preserve the entire Dahlstrom property.
Jones said he hopes Hays CISD takes advantage of the preserve to show elementary school students the history of the land.
“They have 384 acres to walk on. For some of those kids, that may be the only acre they’ll see outside of the city,” Jones said.
Jones said in a statement the county is “honored” the Dahlstrom family is placing its trust in Hays County to manage and develop the preserve.
“The Dahlstrom vision of repurposing part of their ranch as a place for environmental education and nature experiences is a testimony for their love of the land,” Jones said.