Texas Governor Greg Abbott urged state lawmakers to preserve and expand the Texas State Park system during the first week of February 2023. He stated, “Yes, we want Texas to grow. “Yes, we want Texas to prosper. But we can do that while at the very same time conserving the beautiful parks that we have and adding to them to make Texas even more appealing to future generations.”
The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) reported that on the Memorial Day weekend of 2021, 95% of its state park campsites were booked, and 86% of all state parks were completely booked. Texans love their state parks. The TPWD cannot keep up with the demand. Currently, there are five areas cited for expansion and development. Powderhorn Ranch State Park is one of the TPWD’s latest acquisitions.
How Big Is Powderhorn Ranch?
Powderhorn Ranch is part of the last remaining largest natural tracts of the coastal prairie. Powderhorn Ranch State Park is slated to be a part of the existing Powderhorn Wildlife Management Area (WMA). The WMA currently comprises 15,069 acres of coastal tallgrass prairie, freshwater and brackish wetlands, live oak groves, and sand. Powderhorn Lake and Matagorda Bay border its northern and eastern boundaries.
The TPWD will develop an additional 2,253 acres of the Powderhorn WMA into the Powderhorn Ranch State Park. The TPWD bought the Powderhorn Ranch with funds from the BP Horizon oil spill mitigation, Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation, Nature Conservancy, Conservation Fund, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and private donations.
Who Owned the Powderhorn Ranch in Texas?
In August 2014, the above consortium of environmental organizations purchased the Powderhorn Ranch, a 17,351-acre spread in Calhoun County, for $37.7 million. The property includes eleven miles of coastline on Matagorda Bay. Developers of vacation homes lusted for the ranch. Its purchase was the biggest land acquisition of its kind in Texas. The environmental consortium bought Powderhorn Ranch with plans to turn it over to TPWD.
Leroy G. Denman, Sr. bought the Powderhorn Ranch in 1936 after the San Antonio Loan and Trust Company repossessed the St. Charles Ranch (now the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge), which was also known as the Powderhorn North. The U.S. bought the surface rights to the ranch in the early 1930s, and then the land in 1937 from the sale of migratory bird stamps.
Where Is Powderhorn Ranch State Park?
Currently in 2023, the acreage allotted to the Powderhorn Ranch State Park is within the Powderhorn WMA. The WMA offers limited public access, bird watching tours and public hunts. The TPWD birding tours happen mainly in the spring. The tours are open by appointment for large groups and offer a schedule for open birding days. The TPWD has documented over 288 bird species at the WMA.
The Powderhorn WMA and State Park are in Calhoun County on a short peninsula off of Matagorda Bay and just northeast of Espiritu Santo Bay and Matagorda Island on the Texas coast.
The Powderhorn WMA birds include the endangered whooping crane during the winter, and wild whooper populations are growing there. Other species at the WMA include shorebirds, wading birds, waterfowl, and migrating songbirds, especially during their spring migration when their flights around or across the Gulf of Mexico exhaust them, and they rest there to recharge.
In the fall and winter seasons, TPWD offers public hunts through their drawing system. Hunters can draw for a spot online, and there may be standby spots available for drawn hunts. Adult and youth hunt category opportunities are for axis, feral hogs, sambar deer, white-tailed deer, and wild turkey. Also, large nurseries of marine life for blue crab, oysters, and spotted sea trout call this area home, plus a bunch of other critters.
When Will the Powderhorn State Park Open?
Approximately 1,500 acres of the former ranch will become the Powderhorn Ranch State Park featuring vast areas of wetlands. Powderhorn Ranch State Park will offer birding, camping, canoeing and kayaking, fishing, hiking, public hunting, and wildlife viewing.
As of May 2023, TPWD has not announced when they will complete park planning or open up to the public. The conservation/environmental organization’s and TPWD’s objective in 2023 is focused on restoring the native grassland and savannah, and improving the existing hydrology to enhance freshwater wetlands habitat for wildlife at the park site.