Tuesday, June 09, 2009

ENV: Lost Maples Expansion

More land for Lost Maples
By Colin McDonald - Express-News

For centuries, people have been drawn to the twisting limestone canyons that make up Lost Maples State Natural Area.

Lou Waters was one. Now 70, he can hop across white boulders to explore the grottos like a 10-year-old.

On Friday, he plans to sign paperwork to transfer more than 600 acres of his neighboring ranch to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to be added to Lost Maples. Another 100 acres will be transferred this fall.

Agency staff said the public should have access to trails on the new addition — which is a third of the park's current size — by 2012.

State appraisers valued the land at more than $2 million, but Waters is selling it for $1.5 million because he wants to see the land and its Can Creek watershed protected forever.

Land acquisition funds from the Parks and Wildlife Department and a $400,000 federal conservation grant will pay for it.

“You see it and you just want to take care of it,” Waters said.

In a memo explaining the sale, Waters said walking through the Can Creek canyons in the fall under the native big-tooth maples was like “hiking in a golden-red cathedral.”

His wife, Wanda Waters, said, “It just makes you feel so good that other people are going to be able to enjoy it.”

The two met at Rice University. Wanda Waters then taught high school English to put Lou Waters through Harvard Business School. He went on to work on Wall Street and then become the founding chairman of BFI Waste Management.

In the 1970s, a highly successful Waters spent a year looking for ranches. He was born in Pecos, and his wife grew up in Houston. To them, East Texas was too wet. West Texas was too dry. The Hill Country was just right, and they started buying land.

They now own some 10,000 acres near Utopia. On Sunday, from his back porch overlooking a bend in the Sabinal River, Waters could point to a stone cabin barely visible on the ridgeline. He had built it with his son and owns the land running up to it — and a valley on the other side.

The couple gave up their social life in Houston to spend the weekends on their Hill Country property. Waters said that as their kids grew up riding horses and exploring the canyons with him, he lost his drive to hunt, finding he did not want to kill things.

He started to manage his land as a preserve for endangered species.

“As you age, your values change,” Waters said. “I think I love plants now more than I love animals.”

This past winter, Waters met a friend who is a helicopter pilot out of Boerne and does work for the state. The pilot told Waters the Parks and Wildlife Department was interested in buying some of his land. Waters liked the idea and had a deal arranged in less than three months.

“Mr. Waters has been extremely helpful throughout this entire transaction,” said department Land Conservation Director Ted Hollingsworth in an e-mail. “In fact, he initiated it, worked with us to carve out exactly the tract we wanted and agreed to sell it to us at a bargain price.”

For 30 years, Waters had watched the public stream into Lost Maples every fall weekend. He liked how the park staff educated them and protected the land. This spring, bureaucrats, biologists and archaeologists from Austin came to hike, survey and camp in his canyons. He was impressed that they could go for 16-mile treks into the canyons and come out smiling.

Waters said he knew they were the right people to take care of the land for future generations.

“I'm 70 years old,” he said. “You got to start thinking about your end date.”

Without even breathing hard, he headed farther up the canyon to explore more, eager to share with the public what he has come to love.

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