Growing up on Nalle Bunny Run
By Jordan Nalle
I grew up at Bunny Run – in fact, I was nearly born there. My mother went into labor while tending bar on the Lake Austin riverboat, “Commodore,” which my father captained in the 1970s and 80s. They disembarked at Oyster Landing but, before heading to the hospital, had to first take the dog home.
In 1947, my grandparents, Amber and “Tex” Nalle, purchased 75 acres of thick, remote, cedar country along the banks of Lake Austin. Tex lovingly called Amber “Rabbit,” or “Bunny,” and it was said that everything Tex owned, Bunny ran, hence the name “Bunny Run.” In those days, the property was hard to access and surrounded by rural hill country, and the Davenport and Rob Roy ranches. A barn and stable were built to house working ranch horses, and a hospitable patch of lakeside was cleared to serve as the family retreat. Eventually, cows, Axis deer, and Blackbuck antelope joined the native Whitetail. My father loved the land so much that in 1972 he carved his own space out of the cedar, cypress, and snakes to build the home where I was raised with his own two hands. In the early 1970s, the state took several acres to construct Loop 360. The iconic Loop 360 bridge that overlooks Bunny Run was built in 1982.
Bunny Run was a young boy’s dream: water to fish, woods to hunt, and wild acres to explore. I fell in love with the land and the outdoors at an early age. I ate wild venison and fresh catfish caught on trotlines. I learned the hard way what Bull Nettle looks (and feels) like. I learned to navigate the woods and marveled at the stillness of the night. Before-school chores included feeding cattle and setting out hay for the horses. After school, I took to the outdoors alone and would only return to the sound of the truck horn honking for dinner. Amber and Tex joined us and made Bunny Run their permanent home in the late 80s. They offered me refuge (and Dr. Peppers) from unjust parental overreach – at least that’s how it seemed to a hardheaded young boy at the time. Bunny Run was magical and wonderfully isolated from the outside world, and I imagined it would always stay that way.
By the year 2000, Bunny Run was in crisis. Amber was diagnosed with late-stage, aggressive cancer, and passed that December. Tex was heartbroken and in rapid decline. The quiet, secluded patch of lakeside cedar country was now surrounded by million-dollar homes and astronomical property values. The situation was untenable, and we were at an inflection point: how could we possibly keep this wild space green forever? It was a devastating thought that one day Bunny Run might be chopped up into quarter-acre lots and the name relegated to history on the front gate of yet another subdivision. This would be no legacy to leave Amber, Tex, or the wild nature that called Bunny Run home.
But perhaps there was another option. The financial incentive of selling Bunny Run was inconsequential to the desire of preserving it. The family began a dialogue with Hill Country Conservancy (HCC) to discuss donating the property as a way of saving it. I was in my late-teens, grieving, hot-headed, and opposed opening “my” home to the public; but then, I had no appreciation for the gravity of the situation or the destructive alternative. Texas A&M and the Marine Corps came along at the right time to distract me from this difficult decision and, in retrospect, I am thankful we chose to establish the Nalle Bunny Run Wildlife Preserve with HCC.
An act that I initially thought of as “giving away” has actually become one of “giving to me.” I have children of my own now and read to them Marcus Pfister’s book, “Rainbow Fish” with Bunny Run in mind. The Rainbow Fish is one-of-a-kind, bedecked in beautiful, shiny scales that he refuses to share with the other fish. It is only after sharing all but one shiny scale, and seeing the joy from the other fish, that the Rainbow Fish experiences true happiness. Bunny Run is a green emerald jewel in the middle of the bustling Austin suburbs. Seeing others love the land, water, woods, and animals as much as I do is a wonderful thing. This act of donation saved Bunny Run; now countless others, including my own children, get to explore, appreciate, and preserve this native enclave.
Keeping Bunny Run green and wild is constant work. Feeders must be filled, water stations cleaned, brush cleared, invasive species removed, and a fragile ecosystem protected. The return on this investment is well worth it. In Shel Silverstein’s book, “The Giving Tree,” the tree gave all it had out of love. Through sharing, we have given love to Bunny Run with a bigger family to nourish her roots, care for her branches, and enjoy the shade of her full, green canopy for a long time to come.