BOERNE, Texas (AP) - From a rugged, unpaved road barely suitable for a heavy-duty pickup, James Rice shows off Kronkosky State Natural Area, a prototypically beautiful slice of the Hill Country about 90 miles southwest of Austin.
It falls to Rice, the tract’s 57-year-old superintendent and the sole full-time employee looking after these 3,800 acres replete with salmon-colored, smooth-trunked madrone trees and a bucolic swimming spot, to prepare it for the public while protecting its natural features.
The Austin American-Statesman (http://bit.ly/1nU4R4a ) reports Kronkosky site is one of four plots owned by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department not open to the public. For years, because of budget constraints, the department has focused on just keeping up with maintenance and capital improvements at its other properties, including more than 90 state parks.
But eager to develop tracts near urban areas, the department’s chief said he’d like to prepare Kronkosky and Palo Pinto Mountains State Park, west of Fort Worth, for the public. And House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, has put the issue of the unopened lands before lawmakers in the run-up to the next legislative session.
But it might be five years or more until the average Texan sets foot on the Kronkosky tract, depending largely on how much money the Legislature sets aside for parks in coming years.
The property has minimal infrastructure. Its development, including a few dozen campsites, could run about $16 million, and it would demand an annual operating budget of nearly $500,000.
When people visit, they’ll see the madrone trees peeking out from thickets of cedar; they will see a spring-fed lake that could make top 10 lists for swimming holes in Central Texas; they will see wide fields that could make camping grounds; and, if they’re intrepid enough, they will find miles of rugged climbing trails.
As habitat for the Texas alligator lizard or an endangered golden-cheeked warbler, the land has significant ecological features.
Water from here eventually makes its way to Medina Lake, created a century ago for agricultural irrigation but now at less than 5 percent of its capacity because of the drought.
The Kronkosky tract is a gift from Albert and Bessie Kronkosky, a San Antonio family whose roots are in the New Braunfels and Boerne areas. The couple had no children, and after the death of Bessie Kronkosky several years ago, the land was donated to the state.
“This is one of the prettiest parts of our country,” said state Rep. Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio, who has pushed the Legislature to send more of the money raised by a sales tax on fishing equipment, tennis rackets and other sporting goods to the state Parks and Wildlife Department.
In the last session, he and Straus succeeded in getting about half of the roughly $250 million raised every two years to the parks department.
All the sporting goods tax money is meant to go to parks, but some of it has been set aside for other uses, including general revenue spending and book balancing, said Larson.
With the full sporting goods tax money, “we can then not only fix deferred maintenance” - on other parks properties - “we can accelerate the time scale when people can visit it,” Larson said.
He estimated that the Kronkosky tract could be open to the public between three and 10 years from now, depending on the appetite of lawmakers to allow the sporting goods tax money to be used on parks.