Three kayakers paddle on a blue river lined with trees.
El Rancho Cima Kayakers explore the pristine waters of the Blanco River at El Rancho Cima. © Christopher Zebo

Stories in Texas

El Rancho Cima: A Campfire Tale of Conservation and Community

Together, TNC and Hays County protected 535 acres of land with Blanco River frontage, which will soon become a public park.

For 60 years, El Rancho Cima camp was owned and operated by the Sam Houston Area Council of the Boy Scouts of America. Each year, scouts from across Texas flocked to the property to hike its hills, swim in the turquoise waters of the Blanco River and make lasting memories in the heart of the Hill Country wilderness.

A person stands on a dock overlooking a bright blue river surrounded by green grass.
Protecting Land and Water El Rancho Cima property in the Texas Hill Country, protected by TNC Texas. © Christopher Zebo

When the camp closed its doors and was put on the market, The Nature Conservancy (TNC) knew it needed to act quickly to safeguard this pristine property in one of the fastest-growing and -subdividing areas in the entire nation. This region supports numerous wildlife, aquatic and rare plant species that are threatened by habitat loss and degradation—including fish, freshwater mussels and the federally endangered golden-cheeked warbler—making it that much more important to conserve from encroaching fragmentation.

TNC purchased a 535-acre portion of the camp, including all of its river frontage, which stretches for one mile along both banks of the Blanco. By purchasing the land, TNC can protect the frontage and prevent future development along its floodplain. This, in turn, will preserve water quality and increase the resilience of the river’s functionality, particularly during flooding events like the devastating 2015 Memorial Day floods.

A blue river lined with dense green trees.
Hill Country Habitat The Blanco River stretches 87 miles long through three different counties in Texas. © Christopher Zebo
A small bird white and black bird with a yellow head sits on a thick branch.
Hill Country Species An endangered golden-cheeked warbler, which only nests in Central Texas. © Rich Kostecke
Hill Country Habitat The Blanco River stretches 87 miles long through three different counties in Texas. © Christopher Zebo
Hill Country Species An endangered golden-cheeked warbler, which only nests in Central Texas. © Rich Kostecke

But like many land transactions, TNC couldn’t complete this purchase alone. While the old adage, “It takes a village,” often rings true, sometimes it takes an entire county. In 2019, TNC bought the camp acreage for a total price of nearly $13 million. Hays County generously contributed $7 million to the purchase, using bond money set aside for golden-cheeked warbler habitat protection. Yet, the county recognized that it had an even bigger role to play in making this property available to the public as a park.

A woman and a man walk along a grassy trail at the edge of a river.
PUBLIC LAND Proposition A passed by a 69.5% margin, resulting in $75 million in bond funding for county parks, trails and open spaces. © Christopher Zebo

TNC in Hays County

Since 2003, TNC has secured five conservation easements in the Blanco River basin, totaling 4,000+ acres.

When bond elections took place in late 2020, Hays County came through in an important way; residents showed up and spoke out for nature by voting to pass Proposition A by a resounding 70% margin. The act has committed $75 million in bond funding to county parks, trails and open spaces. This includes funding for the purchase of El Rancho Cima from TNC as a future park and preserve.

Now under the ownership of Hays County, a conservation easement will protect this piece of Hill Country history in perpetuity, and, eventually, it will offer public access to nature for all Texans. A limited reservation system will be implemented to ensure the property is used sustainably by the public without degrading natural resources—an approach that thoughtfully considers the needs of both people and the environment.

Four kayakers paddle on a blue river.
Recreation Destination The Blanco River is a popular destination for outdoor recreation in Central Texas. © Christopher Zebo

The purchase of El Rancho Cima illustrates that partnerships, like the one TNC has with Hays County, are paramount to protecting the nature we have left. It’s only through the power of partnership that the legacy of El Rancho Cima has come full circle and will once again provide Texans a chance to enjoy and explore nature’s glory—just as the land was originally envisioned.

Quote: Jeff Francell

We're grateful for the opportunity to once again partner with Hays County, who stepped up to make the purchase of El Rancho Cima possible. This collaboration is creating public parkland that will not only protect invaluable acreage but also provide future generations of Texans with access to nature.

Associate Director of Land Protection for TNC Texas