Devil’s River Ranch: A Christmas Gift for the State of Texas

Texas Spoken Friendly

The owner of the 17,638-acre Devil’s River Ranch in Val Verde County has agreed to sell the ranch to Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) for $13 million, significantly less than the $15,875,000 fair market value calculated earlier this year by an independent appraiser.

Devils River Ranch, which borders about 10 miles of the lower reaches of the spring-fed Devils River and holds considerable natural and cultural resources, will not be open to the public until at least summer of 2013. Photo courtesy TPWD

This addition to the state park system which adjoins the 67,000-acre Amistad National Recreation Area will be paid with $10.1 million in private donations, $2.7 million in state funds allocated for park land acquisition, and $1.3 million in federal Land and Water Conservation Fund dollars. The donations also will cover operating expenses for two-and-a-half years as well as development of a master plan for joint public use of the ranch and the Devils River State Natural Area, 12.7 miles upstream.

The revised deal was announced Monday, December 6 in a TPWD news release. The land sale formally closed via electronic fund transfer on Tuesday, a day following the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission’s approval of the purchase.

“What an exciting Christmas gift for the State of Texas,” Commission chair Peter Holt said moments after the commission voted unanimously to authorize TPWD Executive Director Carter Smith to formally close the purchase of the Devils River Ranch.

“The Devil’s River Ranch is a stunning piece of property with incredible potential,” said Commissioner Dan Hughes, who after visiting the site led the fund-raising effort along with agency director Smith. “This land is a treasure for all generations to come.”

At Monday’s meeting, of 13 persons who testified before the commission, all said they favored the Devils River Ranch purchase. Of 24 written comments received from the public by TPWD, 20 supported the purchase.

Map courtesy TPWD

The ranch, which borders about 10 miles of the lower reaches of the spring-fed Devils River and holds considerable natural and cultural resources, will not open to the public until at least summer of 2013 as the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department develops a comprehensive master plan and public use plan for the site.

The Devil’s River is a Rio Grande tributary and considered the state’s last “wild” river. The river is so pristine that it is used as a benchmark for clean water standards.

It is also home to endangered species, including the tiny black-capped vireo bird. Rare plants and desert fauna also thrive there, nestled in unique crevices, canyons, and mesas dotted with prehistoric rock art.

“The public input process has worked the way it should—we’ve heard from Texans across the state and have been responsive to that input,” Holt said. “One of the things we’ll be doing in response to that input is putting together a working group to develop a long term plan for the protection of the river and for ongoing operation of the two units of the Devils River State Natural Area.”

Holt said the working group will include landowners, paddlers, businesses, non-profit partners, and others who will seek solutions to address the recreational interests of Devils River users as well as the property rights of adjacent landowners.

Devils River Ranch fronts the east side of the Devils River for about 10 miles before the river begins merging with the Amistad International Reservoir on the Rio Grande near Del Rio. The ranch, which is largely desert scrub, includes a large lodge, several other residences, and an airstrip. Photo courtesy Laurence Parent, TPWD

The deal was in contrast to a land swap proposal in early November in which the state and Dallas home builder Rod Sanders would have exchanged ownership of the two large tracts, and Sanders would have received $8 million in cash.

That proposal was controversial for several reasons, including the amount of cash Sanders would have received at a time when state finances are strained, the critical loss of public access to upper reaches of the river, and the hurry-up nature of the deal at the last regularly scheduled meeting of the commission this year.

The agreement reached this week is remarkable for both the size of the land protected and the number of private donors involved.

Worth Pondering…

No matter how far we may wander, Texas lingers with us, coloring our perceptions of the world.

—Elmer Kelto

More about Texas State Parks

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Sea Center Texas

Garner State Park

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