Thanks to a partnership between a Spicewood family and a local conservation nonprofit, more than 500 acres of environmentally sensitive Hill Country land will remain protected and undeveloped.

Hill Country Conservancy announced June 29 that a conservation easement has been granted for 561 acres of Spicewood Ranch—a property owned by Chris and Will Harte. Together, the Harte family and HCC will ensure the permanent protection of this land and its unspoiled landscape.

According to HCC’s website, conservation easements are traditionally used to conserve land while still allowing landowners to retain ownership of the property and many property rights.

“With over 95% of Texas’ land being privately owned, we are incredibly dependent on the efforts of stewards like the owners of Spicewood Ranch for their care of the region’s water resources, iconic Texas wildlife and our unique quality of life,” HCC Chief Conservation Officer Frank Davis said in a June 29 news release.

Nestled in the Hill Country roughly 45 minutes from Austin lies Spicewood Ranch, a property lush with oak and ash juniper trees, wildlife, and freshwater springs. HCC referred to the land located within the Colorado River and Lake Travis watersheds as a shining example of a healthy ecosystem, but the property was not always as healthy as it is today.

Roughly 50 years ago, Spicewood Ranch experienced overgrazing and severe erosion that threatened the property, according to a release from HCC. Over the next decade, the Harte family worked to restore the ranch’s native habitat through a strategy developed by biologist David Mahler with Environmental Survey Consulting.

The restoration project was championed by Chris Harte’s late wife, Kay Wagenknecht-Harte, according to HCC, and 47 years and 30 land acquisitions later, Spicewood Ranch has reached its size of over 1,100 acres.

The family continued their environmental stewardship practices after Wagenknecht-Harte’s passing and eventually received the Lone Star Land Steward Award from Texas Parks & Wildlife in 2018 and the Travis Audubon Society’s Victor Emanuel Conversation Award in 2019.

The protection of Spicewood Ranch is vital to the surrounding region, especially as the Austin and surrounding areas continue to see development growth and expansion, according to HCC.

Roughly 595 plant species have been identified on the property and many wildlife species on the ranch have been designated by TPWD as “species of greatest conservation need.” The ranch is also home to three miles of Alligator Creek, which flows directly into Lake Travis, the primary source of drinking water for the city of Austin and surrounding communities.

“I’ve wanted to protect Spicewood Ranch for decades, but only in recent years have we made enough progress with our restoration efforts, and with buying enough of the 15 or so parcels of land in this 561-acre easement to make it possible to protect a reasonable tract of land,” Harte said in the release.