Hill Country Alliance marks its first decade
I still remember visiting Ken and Laurie Kattner at Putnam Mountain Observatory in northern Gillespie County for a story. After we enjoyed dinner, got a look at the telescope and computer stations, we stepped out onto their driveway.
Wow. The stars popped in this sparsely populated area. We could see the Milky Way with our naked eye. Even just living 12 miles away in town, the view is much less vivid. And I have lived before in other places where views of the stars are just distant memories.
Many folks in Gillespie County still have not heard of the Hill Country Alliance, but the group marked its 10th year in existence in advocating for healthy land and waters, dark skies and fostering a community which cares about these things.
The group’s footprint covers 17 counties and 17,000 square miles. Last week, the group held its annual meeting to a packed room at Camp Lucy in Dripping Springs. Speakers included advocates of all stripes, including lawmakers, CEO of the Texas Wildlife Association, authors, civil engineers and more.
If I had a simple phrase to represent these folks, it would be gentle advocacy. These are not obnoxious advocates from Austin who try and tell you what to do with your land. Rather they’re people who, like us in Gillespie County, appreciate the starry nights, the clean water and pristine land.
This area of Texas is represented by conservative politicians, and I was impressed to see Jason Isaac and our own representative-elect Kyle Biedermann in attendance. I appreciate Kyle’s willingness to listen and learn, knowing full well he probably got some kickback from some of his supporters for even being there.
Gillespie County had other representation as well. Doug Cochran, superintendent at Enchanted Rock State Natural Area, and Kattner, the observatory owner, took part in a discussion on dark skies initiatives and how protecting our starry nights will take a little voluntary effort. It’s amazing that we can still look up at night and see the Milky Way with our eyes, but it’s not a given that we’ll still be able to 10 years from now.
They teamed with representatives from Pedernales Electric Cooperative and the Llano Main Street director “Tex” Toler, who advocated for “using only as much as we need.” That’s a simple message that has been passed down through the ages in ranching families, but lately has been hijacked by federal, one-size-fits-all bureaucrats on one side and political suspicion on the other.
HCA’s leaders also include Fredericksburg’s Dr. Leo Tynan, the current president and a passionate advocate for conservation, and Milan J. Michalec Jr., a Boerne resident with local connections and a groundwater expert.
I was especially impressed with David Yeates, CEO for the Texas Wildlife Association, which promotes private land stewardship, hunting heritage, guarding against the use of eminent domain and the use of conservation easements to keep land intact. With just one percent of Texans being rural landowners, Yeates hoped rural landowners wouldn’t be compared to the Comanches and be run into extinction by people who don’t understand or care about the land.
Last year, he warned, there were one million acres of rural land lost to urbanization. Unfortunately, that’s a trend that will continue as Texas continues to draw people by the pickup load.
Gillespie County has the lowest participation in HCA of any neighboring counties. But Gillespie Countians don’t jump into things quickly and that’s OK. Keeping clean water, healthy land and starry nights will be a generations-long quest out here as Austin and San Antonio encroach westward.
Everyone with land interests should check out this decade-old group and see how it can help keep land, water, soil and skies clear. Being from a tiny town just a few hours away, I understand a landowner’s reluctance to governmental interference. But I like this group because their hearts are in the right place and they’re using education instead of governmental interference to make positive changes.
We are blessed to live out here. But keeping the Hill Country beautiful — and that magnificent view of the Milky Way — is something I hope we leave for the next generations.