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Good InfoInstead of Taking Millions for Their Land, Texas Family Makes a Park...

Instead of Taking Millions for Their Land, Texas Family Makes a Park Instead

Aerial View of RGK Ranch Credit: Erich Schlegal for RGK Ranch

A rare win for conservation was just scored in the fast-developing Travis County, Texas, where 30 minutes from Austin’s busy tech sector, music venues, and barbeque spots, a historic family ranch has just been converted into a public park.

It wasn’t just converted, it was voluntarily sold by the family who owned it—at $40 million less than what developers were offering to turn the partially forested Hill Country remnant close to Hamilton Pool Preserve into a series of apartment complexes and shopping malls.

Known as RGK Ranch, this 1,507-acre cattle ranch was owned by the Kozmetsky family for three generations. Its recently deceased owner, George Kozmetsky, made a fortune with a company called Teledyne, and invested a lot of money, entrepreneurially and philanthropically, in Austin and Travis County.

George is survived by his son Daniel and daughter Nadya, who grew up spending summers on the ranch hiking the hills, floating on an intertube down Bee Creek, spotting bobcats, deer, and snakes among the scrub, and hunting for treasures like shed antlers, arrowheads, and fossils amid the unique karst rock formations.

The RGK Foundation, set up by George, and particularly at the initiative of Nadya, agreed to sell all but 90 acres of the ranch to Travis County for $90 million, which was funded by the Proposition B Parks Bond Measure, which Austin voters passed last November.

“The property was permitted for 1,400 houses and 150 acres of commercial development, including apartments and shopping centers,” said Jeff Francell, associate director of land protection for the Nature Conservancy in Texas, which facilitated the transaction.

“Instead of rooftops, they’re turning that property, which is incredibly close to Reimers Ranch, into a park everyone can use.”

Texas Monthly writes that because Travis County and other metropolitan areas in Texas are some of the fastest growing areas of the country, the state park system is straining to meet the demand of residents, and some parks are becoming overcrowded. Nowhere is this more true than in Travis, where the delicate and unique Hill Country was, for a period, being devoured by developers.

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The fightback, so to speak, began in the 1980s, when Hamilton Pool Preserve was created to protect amazing hiking trails and the beautiful, crystal-clear waters of a limestone-fed swimming hole. In 2005, Reimers Ranch Park, another slice of Hill Country, was created, and now, RGK Ranch, which sits between the other two, will take the total amount of protected acreage in the zone to 5,430 acres.

“The Nature Conservancy has worked with the county ever since to add land and conservation easements around the park to preserve water quality, wildlife habitat, and just the rural character of the western end of Hamilton Pool,” Francell told Texas Monthly. “While this part of the county has developed, the county has built out a significant amount of parkland, most of which is connected.”

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The Nature Conservancy has been working in parallel to secure an additional 3,000 acres, which they plan to combine with the County’s holdings to create wildlife corridors and hiking trails that connect all the various parks for a grand total of 8,600 acres.

The family will maintain 90 acres that include an access road, a house, and a lake, with the county receiving first-refusal rights if the family decides to sell in the future. The RGK Ranch park will be open to the public after minimal infrastructure installments (like a bathroom or two) are finished in 2025 or 2026.

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