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TPWD conducts hearing on ABKSNA

By Carolyn B. Edwards BCC Staff Writer

Pictured: Photos by Carolyn B. Edwards
ABKSNA Superintendent James Rice and TPWD Park Planner Drew Carman field questions from the crowd at Wednesday's public meeting in Boerne. The meeting gave locals a chance to share their views on the future of the state natural area.

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) hosted a public meeting at the Boerne Public Library Wednesday, August 13, to help determine the future public use of Bandera County's Albert & Bessie Kronkosky State Natural Area (ABKSNA). The Community Room of the library held a packed and very interested crowd.
ABK State Natural Area was donated in 2011 to TPWD at the behest of the Kronkoskys. The property encompasses more than 3,700 acres of the former 3K Ranch that straddles the Kendall-Bandera County line. The park is not expected to be fully opened to the general public for at least another few years. (For more on what is happening at the SNA now, see page 1B.)
TPWD staffers, led by park planner Drew Carman, presented an overview of the facilities and recreational uses proposed for the park and welcomed comments that will guide future park development. Maps showing the facilities and recreational uses were available for viewing at the meeting.
Carman opened the meeting by detailing the existing facilities and natural resources on the property. He then offered a preliminary plan for future development before opening up the meeting to public comments.
The property contains a small spring-fed lake, some small areas of grassland that are being restored, numerous intermittent streams and plenty of habitat for the endangered golden cheeked warbler (that means lots of old and new growth cedar). The property also contains some archaeological sites of early property owners.
Volunteers who have been working on baseline inventories for the past year have discovered rare plants and animals which are endemic to the Hill Country.
"ABK is really rich in a lot of cultural and natural resources," Carman said. Preliminary plans for development cover less than 60 acres of the almost 4,000 acre property. His concept included a headquarters building and visitor center. The main day use area could include parking, restrooms, a group use pavilion, some picnic shelters and the main trailhead. An ADA accessible hike would lead from the main day use area to the lake for one of the park's scenic trails.
Carman also proposed two multi-use camping loops for RVs, a cluster of mini-cabins, and an area for walk-in tent camping.
Water on the property currently comes from three wells, only one of which is in use. Water in the other two wells has yet to be tested. Carman indicated that another well might need to be drilled. Planners will design rainwater catchment, landscaping swales and other conservation measures. The limited hiking trails will be designed to be sustainable. Composting and low flow toilets will also be considered.
"We do have an environmental consciousness in our planning group," he said, "and we take those issues very seriously."
Carman said his current design made use of old ranch roads and other pre-developed areas to lessen the impact of new development.
One audience member said the site should be looked at as an opportunity for education and conservation, instead of recreation. Others joined him in saying public access should be severely limited on the property.
"It's a jewel, and it's a very fragile jewel," he said. He spoke against considering opening the property to mountain biking or horses. "This property is much more suited to boots!"
Another speaker urged the planners to reduce the number of parking spaces. "Anywhere you have vehicles, you have pollution."
Yet another citizen wondered if the SNA would be another "unfunded mandate from the state" for Kendall and Bandera Counties to foot the bill for security, EMS and fire services.
A TPWD staffer replied, "This SNA is currently not funded. We're probably four to six years out for funding." Waving at the displayed maps he added, "This doesn't happen without full funding... which would include full staffing."
There is currently a fire service on the property with trucks and qualified fire fighters. Park Superintendent James Rice said, "We use fire to improve habitat and for fuel reduction and we have to follow all kinds of regulations for that." Rice said they are looking at placing dry hydrants at the SNA's lake to remove water to fight wildfires if necessary.
A representative from the Cibolo Nature Center said he would like to see the property become a model of watershed stewardship and to demonstrate those practices to the public.
TPWD will work closely with TxDOT to improve its Highway 46 frontage for greater safety. Someone suggested they put a flashing sign at 46 and 10 to alert visitors from San Antonio that the park was full. "Then those people could come into Boerne to shop and eat!" which drew a laugh from the crowd.
One lone voice stood to say he disagreed with all the discussion about not letting the public have access. "You need users to fund the park," he said.
Carman's preliminary proposal included 31 multi-use (RV) sites, 22 hike-in sites, 13 mini-cabins, 27 miles of hike-bike trails and 1.3 miles of ADA trails.
TPWD park planners will consider the suggestions presented at the meeting, Carman said. Changes will be made to the preliminary proposals and more public meetings will be held down the road.
Anyone unable to attend the meeting can still submit written comments regarding the SNA's use. The comments must be received by August 25 in person, by mail or by e-mail. Comments can be presented in person or sent to ABK State Natural Area Superintendent James Rice, 7690 Highway 46 W., Pipe Creek, 78063 or james.rice@tpwd.texas.gov or to Texas State Park Planner Drew Carman, 4200 Smith School Road, Austin, 78744 or drew.carman@tpwd.texas.gov.