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2012-03-08

3K's Ranch - good, bad & budget cuts

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

Last year, the estate of longtime Bandera County benefactors Albert and Bessie Kronkosky donated the 3K's Ranch on Highway 46 West to the State of Texas for use as a state park or state natural area. That's the good news.

On Jan. 27, 2011, the Parks and Wildlife Commission voted to accept the donation at a regular meeting.

That's more good news.

The bad news is, of course, that due to budget constraints at Texas Parks and Wildlife, the nearly 3,800-acre ranch will not be open for business in the foreseeable future.

According to reports, whipping the 3K's Ranch, which sprawls across Bandera and Kendall counties, into shape for visitors will take time, effort and money. Difficulties include an overgrowth of brush and cedar, problematic topography not readily adaptable to carving out hiking trails and an abundance of wild hogs.

On the other hand, however, the ranchland offers a cornucopia of plant species - some of which, such as the sycamore leaf snowbell, normally found only on the Edwards Plateau, are rare and endangered.

Approximately 200 plant species have
been identified on the property - 12 found only in the Hill Country and eight that had migrated to the area.

The ranch's impressive stands of trees include live oaks, Texas madrones and even relic bigtooth maples that rival those found at Lost Maples State Natural Area.

Of course, the endangered golden-cheeked warbler, along with other native and migratory birds, also nests happily in the area's undisturbed canyons.

All in all, the 3K's Ranch could ideally be transformed into another Hill Country State Natural Area, bringing more daytrippers and their tourist dollars into the area.

Unfortunately, these day and age, it takes dollars to generate dollars - and dollars seems to be what the TPW sorely lacks. In fact, the department's operating funds are running $4.6 million in the red, which makes it difficult to keep the state's already established parks, natural area and historic sites up-and-running. In recent years, record drought and heat, devastating wildfires and a drop in visitors have led to a critical situation for the state park system.

So extreme has the problem become that TWP Executive Director Carter Smith has reached out to the public via the department's website, urging them to make a tax-deductible donation online or when renewing vehicle or boat registrations. Or, he said, the public could help by simply visiting a state park with family and friends because admission fees account for approximately half of all park operating costs. But, as was recently pointed out, "You can't run something as large as the Texas park system on public donations."

It has been reported that, to date, $1 million of the shortfall has been made up - primarily by foundation funding.

Normally, the majority of park funding comes from the sporting good sales tax. However, according to an article in the San Antonio Express-News, published on Jan. 29, of the $125 million per year generated annually by this tax, only $26 actually goes to Texas' parks. The rest of the money is funneled into the state's general fund.

The January-February issue of Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine reported that park staff has moved onto the 3K's Ranch, and biologists are conducting baseline studies of the ranch's rich biological diversity.

According to Kevin Good, special assistant to Director Smith, only a single employee of the state park division, who has responsibilities across the Hill Country, is based at the site.

The ranch complex includes a main residence, ranch manager's residence, three garages and two barns. At present, the property serves as headquarters for TPWD Park Region 3.

"TPWD is reviewing options to determine whether the property will carry a state park or state natural area designation," Good wrote in a Friday, March 2, email to the Courier.

However, unless a figurative wealthy uncle dies, bequeathing the State of Texas a generous inheritance, the 3K's Ranch must languish at the back of a long line of potential other parks awaiting development. Prior to opening parks to visitors, amenities to be constructed include master plans, restroom facilities and parking lots - and the TPW cupboard is currently bare.

Other potential parks in the queue include 37,885 acres in the Chinati Mountains in West Texas; Devil's River Ranch in Val Verde County, 18,000 acres which was purchased primarily by donations; 3,300 acres in North Texas near the town of Strawn, comprised of three contiguous tracts of land straddling the Palo Pinto and Stephens county line about 70 miles west of Fort Worth; and Davis Hill, 1,737 acres acquired by the state in 1983. Unfortunately, all these properties, like the nearby 3K's Ranch, are years - if not generations - away from opening.


Pictured: The 3K's Ranch, donated to the State of Texas park system by the estate of Albert and Bessie Kronkosky, sprawls across the county lines of Bandera and Kendall counties.
The main house of the 3K's Ranch serves as serves as headquarters for Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Region 3. Due to budget cuts, it will be years before the nearly 3,800-acre ranch property can be developed as either a state park or state natural area.