Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Travis County will turn family's ranch into 1,500 acres of public parkland

A man walks his dog under a thick tree canopy on Red Bud Isle in West Austin.
Courtesy of Erich Schlegel
RGK Ranch
There are multiple creeks running through the large family ranch located west of the City of Bee Cave.

Travis County commissioners plan to add about 1,500 acres to the county’s wilderness parklands, protecting the pristine land from development and setting it up as a future destination for hikers and bicyclists.

The $90 million deal to purchase a privately-owned ranch in southwest Travis County was made possible by voters passing a bond proposition last November and landowners willing to sell at a discounted price.

Travis County Commissioner Ann Howard said the undeveloped land, located between State Highway 71 and Hamilton Pool Preserve, is like the “gateway to the Hill Country." The land has creeks running through it and is filled to the brim with cedar and oak trees, bluebonnets and Indian paintbrush and local wildlife.

A dirt road covered in bluebonnets and cactus.
Courtesy of Erich Schlegel
RGK Ranch
People will be able to enjoy every kind of Texas wildflower and wildlife imaginable when the park opens to the public.

Howard said the property was sold to the county on the condition it remained wilderness park space in perpetuity. While the Travis County Parks Department plans to add hike and bike trails, you shouldn’t lace up your hiking shoes just yet. Charles Bergh, a former director of Travis County Parks, said it could take a few years before the land is open to the public.

“You can’t just buy a piece of property and just open the gate and let the public go all over it,” Bergh said. “You have to have facilities for parking and restrooms."

Bergh said while finalizing the purchase of the land Tuesday is a milestone, there are many more steps before the park can be opened to the public — from developing a plan and soliciting public input to building projects and finally staffing the park. And how fast that process happens will be tied to funding. He said that will likely be decided during the county’s annual budget process.

“When we get it open eventually, [people] will have a great place to go hike and get outdoors and won’t have to drive very far to do it,” he said. “It’s a beautiful piece of property. I can see why the family retained it for all these years.”

A map shows the location of RGK Ranch to the east of Hamilton Pool Preserve and west of State Highway 71 in western Travis County.
Courtesy of Travis County Parks
Travis County Parks hopes to one day have public trails connecting Hamilton Pool Preserve with the new wilderness parkland.

The land, known as RGK Ranch, was owned by Ronya and George Kozmetsky and subsequently their children and grandchildren, according to the Austin American-Statesman. Commissioner Howard said The Nature Conservancy helped broker a deal between the landowners and the county.

“A landowner … can sell their land for market price or they can have some kind of other mission they're trying to accomplish,” Howard said. “We were fortunate that [the Kozmetsky's daughter, Nadya Scott,] had a mission to … convert this family ranch to public parkland.”

In a statement, the landowners said they received offers north of $130 million from developers for their ranch. Scott donated her own family’s $30 million share of the property to Travis County. That made the county’s offer to be buy the land for $90 million more competitive. The county funded the purchase from Proposition B bond money which passed last November and an additional $30 million from certificates of obligation — another kind of bond that doesn’t require voter approval.

Howard said the county had the RGK Ranch in mind even before the bond was put on the ballot last year.

Travis County allocated $100 million of that bond to purchase land for parks in western parts of the county, along with another $100 million for the eastern half.

A drone photo shows the large expansive property with dirt roads and trees.
Courtesy of Erich Schlegel
RGK Ranch
Parks officials say it will take a few years for hikers and bicyclists can enjoy the new parkland.

Just last month, the county used $40 million of that to close on the 475-acre Castletop property in western Travis County. The land is adjacent to an existing Travis County park, Milton Reimers Ranch Park. Bergh said the land will be considered an extension of the park.

The Castletop property is just west of the RGK Ranch. Howard said the goal is to try and connect these parklands with a trail system.

“So, you’ll be able to hike from Highway 71 — an entrance there — all the way down to Hamilton Pool,” she said.

Bergh said, with the addition of the 475-acre Castletop property and 1,506-acre RGK Ranch, the county will have about 7,000 acres of wilderness parkland.

Both Howard and Bergh said one of the benefits of acquiring these large acreage properties is to prevent developers from creating housing subdivisions and retail stores, which would require more infrastructure be built and water use when water levels are already low.

“We have a duty to protect those edges of that Hill Country because the more we encroach on the edges, the more we erode the beauty,” Howard said. “We’re really protecting nature for the future. And that’s better for our air quality, for water quality and for our quality of life.”

Sangita Menon is a general assignment reporter for KUT. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on Twitter @sangitamenon.
Related Content