County park will connect past, present
A man plods behind his mule-drawn plow, cresting a gentle hill. A dried cornhusk skitters across the rich black furrows as he pauses, wiping his brow. A bird call sounds, and he glances over his shoulder toward the thicket along the river. He returns to his task, but thoughts about recent Indian raids on the settlements intrude.
Fast forward from the late 1800s to 2012 in eastern Williamson County. Though this area was once highly desirable farmland for settlers, today, little of the fertile Blackland Prairie crescent extending from the Red River southward to Central Texas and eastward toward coastal plains exists in its natural state. With goals of preserving historical context, native vegetation, and unique geographical features, the county purchased 348 acres three years ago. In December 2011 the Wilco Commissioners Court approved the Blackland Heritage County Park project. The site lies beyond Georgetown, two miles east of Jonah on Highway 29. Some parts are still under active cultivation.
According to Randy Bell, Director of Williamson County Parks and Recreation, there’s no target date for activating the park, but he sees an exciting challenge with great potential. “Park development always occurs in phases, depending on funding. We have to interface public needs like hiking trails and restrooms with resources at hand. We’re balancing visitor safety with habitat sensitivity. Some state parks might provide general models, with their focus on natural and cultural resources, but we also have a ‘dream model’ developed by Baker-Aicklen and Associates, Inc., and I like thinking about how this tract might eventually look.”
The master plan accommodated significant public input along with the realities of the site—views, soil conditions, floodplain, and even not-so-historical overhead transmission lines. There are four distinct zones within the park with names like Last Frontier and River Lands, and there’s an active spring that flowed even during the 2011 drought. Popular ideas for future development include maximum open space, a viewing tower and water feature on the eastern end, and even, perhaps, a boardwalk meandering through the tree canopy.
No authentic farm buildings remain now, but Randy envisions interpretative displays that would allow young people and urban folks to understand rural life in Texas during the late nineteenth century. Randy says, “Blackland Heritage County Park has the goal to connect nature and history for Wilco citizens.” While human influence ebbs and flows, he adds, land that is preserved is timeless.
Go to parks.wilco.org and scroll down on the left for details and illustrations.