Although it is challenging to describe concisely my feelings for the Texas Hill Country, for me it’s about the land, the water, and the people. No matter where I am in the Hill Country, I always feel at home. Being able to spend the past twenty years helping to ensure that the “homeness” and “countryness” of the Hill Country can be experienced and enjoyed by others has been one of the most poignant blessings of my life. I grew up roaming the hills, exploring the creeks, and staring wondrously at the starry-bright night skies in the Hill Country. My wish is that everyone, everywhere, at some point in their life has the same opportunity.
In 2000, the founding Board, supporters, and I shared a compelling vision. (Honestly, it was an “easy sell” because as a friend put it to me at that time, “What’s not to love about preserving the great outdoors?” Amen to that!) During these past twenty years at Hill Country Conservancy with one of the best conservation teams anywhere, we have focused on effecting this vision by preserving the special elements of the Hill Country—the land, flora, fauna, waters, and the history of the diverse people who have called the Hill Country home—and by providing access to nature for everyone on the Violet Crown Trail.
We all owe an eternal debt of gratitude to the founding, past, and current board members for passionately donating so much time, talent, and treasure. It has been heartening to serve both the board and you, our supporters, and to work alongside the awesomely talented Hill Country Conservancy staff, my friends. You have all given selflessly to make sure the original vision of landscape-scale conservation and embracing a conservation ethic will always be an important part of the value system of central Texas.
Regarding the future of Hill Country Conservancy’s role in working with many partners and stakeholders to continue the good work we’ve done so far, I believe the impacts of climate change and an ever-increasing diversity of Texas’s population will challenge all of us to work smarter and more inclusively while also affording the greatest opportunities for Hill Country Conservancy to continuing leading and innovating. And in the “very good news department,” I am absolutely certain my friend and new Chief Executive Officer, Dan Eck, is the right person at the right time to lead us forward to effect even more conservation successes and to complete the Violet Crown Trail and connect it to other trail systems. Thanks in advance, Dan, for your leadership and dedication to Hill Country Conservancy for the next twenty years!
In closing, I thank Dan for quoting Elmer Kelton’s book The Time It Never Rained in his post below. I learned the importance of sharing copies of this book from Joe Beall, former General Manager of the Lower Colorado River Authority. Joe gave away countless copies and I continue that tradition out of respect for Mr. Kelton and the importance of The Time It Never Rained, which helped me begin to understand the nature and importance of water and come to terms with the hard reality that without water, there is no life. On a more positive note, I urge everyone to get out there and swim, fish, kayak, and respect and love the creeks, streams, and rivers of Texas, which is what I plan to do with at least some of my time for the next twenty years. Thank you!
I believe the next 20 years of conservation work will help determine the future of Austin and the Hill Country. That may sound overdramatic, but let me explain.
The incredible population and business expansion in this region is in large part due to the enviable quality of life. People want to live where they have access to healthy and beautiful landscapes of both the naturally-occurring and the thoughtfully-planned varieties. They also need to earn a living and want to be part of a vibrant economy. (In fact, these are all reasons my wife and I moved to Austin in mid-December!)
The last 20 years of work of Hill Country Conservancy and our partner businesses, governmental agencies, nonprofits, and area citizens have proved that while it takes foresight, collaboration, and significant efforts, caring for the land and water resources of our region is not incompatible with economic growth. However, if we reduce our efforts or sacrifice one for the other, the balance will be lost. We’ll wobble out of control and lose the advantages that make Austin and the Hill Country one of the most desirable regions in the U.S. to live and work.
So, what can HCC do to keep moving forward with this balancing act? Our vision and goals must be clear and remain in the forefront of all we do—and we must adhere to our values every step along the way. We must increase our partnership and collaboration efforts with even more communities, to reach the portions of our population who are not engaged in or experiencing the benefits of conservation work and to support the continued work of those who understand the value of our natural resources. Perhaps most importantly, we must remember that change is inevitable—we should lead and act, rather than wait and react.
In the course of a wide-ranging discussion a few weeks before I started my role at HCC, I asked George Cofer for reading material he thought might help me dig into this new job. I was expecting some internal documents, some reference materials, things along that line. But he recommended a classic Texan novel about an aged rancher, The Time it Never Rained by Elmer Kelton. Of the many meaningful passages in the book, this quote from the rancher really grabbed me: “There’ll come a time in this country when a barrel of water is worth more than a barrel of oil.” Talk about a world out of balance.
And speaking of feeling out of balance, how do you replace someone like George Cofer? You can't. But you can do your best to build upon his decades of dedication to the cause and the good will he has generated for HCC and the countless other initiatives that work to preserve the beautiful and incredibly important natural resources of Austin and the Hill Country.
Think of how grateful we are today and how we all benefit from the hard work of our colleagues over the past 20 years to preserve the water and land resources of the Hill Country. We have the chance now, and every day, to continue this legacy and to keep our region on the path to continued success so it remains an incredibly beautiful and healthy place to work and live.
I’ve probably never said or written this but George has been not only a neighbor in Rollingwood for years but a personal mentor in conservation as well. We both have roots in the Hillcountry and without his role modeling I doubt if our family ranch would have ever become conservation easement, as it is now.
We had the great good fortune of being raised a stone’s throw from Barton Springs, swimming in Lake Austin and Lake Travis.
Our reverence for the value of water and understanding of the drought-flood cycles of Texas is something we share and inspired our rainwater harvesting system we currently have at the ole family ranch.
George has been a gift and I am sure Dan will be as well. Happy trails to you both!
I heart you George. Onward in your new quest. And I also never collected on that kayaking trip down Barton Creek that I “won” in the drought times and then got to busy with life and what not. Someday…