April 14, 2014

Hill Country water’s naturally short

As subdivisions swallow land, beauty and resources disappear.

Reading about the drought and water shortage affecting parts of Texas and across the nation brought to mind a recent trip.

My wife and I drove to Gruene in the Hill Country to see ol’ Jerry Jeff Walker sing Mr. Bojangles again. He is 72, and some day he is going to hang it up. I want to see him a few more times before Jerry Jeff and I get too old!

For the drive back to East Texas, we took the long way home. We went through Fredericksburg, Boerne, Marble Falls and Johnson City.

We made it a point not to eat at any chain restaurants and instead to enjoy dining at some of the local cafes. The food was outstanding, the service was friendly, and the price was unbelievable for the quality and quantity of food that we received.

As we were enjoying the scenery, especially the bluebonnets, I noticed something that just broke my heart: Suburbia is sneaking its way into the Hill Country.

What used to be 1,000-acre ranches is being cut up into 5-acre lots for sale at exorbitant prices. It makes me wonder if we are ruining the very thing that makes this part of Texas so special.

Some of the land is beautiful farm land being tilled and harvested. The vast majority of it is — well, as my father says “is just there to hold the world together.” Not a lot of agricultural value, but to be honest, this is the land that is so wonderful to look at and is what makes the Hill Country what it is.

But since the last time I was there, there are also subdivisions with cookie-cutter “McMansions,” a few strip malls in the old towns and a lot of chain restaurants that were not there a few years ago. Makes me wonder what it will look like 20 years from now.

I am a property-rights supporter 100 percent. If a person has the money to own the land, it is their constitutional right to do as they wish as long as it does no harm to anyone else.

Some change is unavoidable. Children inherit land in the Hill Country and live thousands of miles away, and they cannot afford to keep it and have no need for it. They have to sell, but I sure hate to see it happen.

One thing is certain: The Hill Country was not designed to support a huge population. The land, while beautiful and a desirable place to live, does not have adequate water resources to support it.

I don’t know what the answer is, but I will bet that one will be forthcoming. There will be no choice.

I own a few acres, but I have never bought a piece of land in the process of being subdivided.

I have actually put two pieces of land back together that had been subdivided in the 1960’s. It was a financial hardship, but we were able to make it work.

I am not passing judgment on those who do buy subdivided land. But let us not destroy what we love.

Joel D. Harlow is a banker and rancher in Van Zandt County. jharlow61@gmail.com

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