The Nature Conservancy of Texas has purchased the 7,000 acre Fresno Ranch in far West Texas and plans to transfer it to Texas Parks and Wildlife Department for the purchase price of about $2.6 million. The deal culminates 20 years of work to remove the largest remaining in-holding inside Texas’ biggest state park, expands hiking and public access, and protects desert springs, Rio Grande river frontage, diverse wildlife and rich cultural resources. Acquiring the checkerboard 11-section tract removes in-holdings within the park’s Fresno Canyon, a beautiful natural corridor with cottonwood trees, desert springs, archeological sites, and majestic views. The acquisition means park users will be able to access all of Fresno Canyon. The property comes down to the Rio Grande, so it also now gives the state park 8.5 miles of unbroken public river frontage. Most of Fresno Ranch lies in non-contiguous tracts in Presidio County, with some 200 acres in Brewster County.
“The Nature Conservancy is thrilled to be able to make this important addition to Big Bend Ranch State Park a reality to allow Texas residents and visitors greater opportunities to enjoy this beautiful and fascinating natural resource,” said Laura Huffman, state director of The Nature Conservancy of Texas. “Acquiring this key piece of land means additional opportunities for park visitors, and we believe providing access to this Texas treasure is important.”
“This is the most important land acquisition at Big Bend Ranch since the department bought General Land Office in-holdings in 1991, which included large parts of the current park, including the Solitario,” said Scott Boruff, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department deputy executive director for operations. “The Fresno Ranch acquisition opens up key areas in the park, places the public couldn’t go before,” Boruff said. “Plus, the mouth of Fresno Creek is the one remaining large tract along the river inside the park that could have been subject to adverse development. So this protects one of the most scenic and important areas at Big Bend Ranch.”
The Nature Conservancy purchased the property from the estate of the late Jeanne Norsworthy, granddaughter of notable Texas newsman George Dealey, founder of the Dallas Morning-News. Norsworthy, of Houston, was a notable artist who lived on Fresno Ranch after she acquired it.
“Jeanne was a great lover of the Big Bend country,” said Andrew Sansom, a member of the Texas State Parks Advisory Committee and former Texas Parks and Wildlife Department executive director, who helped lead state efforts to purchase Big Bend Ranch.
“Jeanne was a very distinguished artist, and she created a beautiful body of art, much of it done there at the Fresno Ranch,” Sansom said. “We first began to speak with her in the late 1980s. I last discussed the acquisition of this property a few months before her death, and she told me she wanted it to become part of the park, so in a very large measure this is fulfilling her vision.”
Norsworthy died in 1998. Her award-winning book, “Healing Landscapes: A Journey from the Big Thicket to the Big Bend,” about her observations of nature and people in the Big Thicket and the Big Bend, was published posthumously by Texas A&M University Press in 2001.
A federal Land and Water Conservation Fund matching grant will help TPWD fund the acquisition, which supports department plans to increase public use of the park. This year, the park is opening more than 50 new backcountry campsites in remote, scenic areas visitors could not get to on their own before, as well as many new miles of hiking, biking and equestrian trails and newly accessible dirt roads. While there are a number of campsites accessible by car, most of the new backcountry sites require high-clearance vehicles, and some require four-wheel drive. But for adventurous travelers, the new sites offer uncrowded experiences in pristine settings.