Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve
The Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve was initially created in 1974 by a group of women better known as “Now or Never.” The group was established to preserve an untouched piece of land as a direct environmental resource to be used for educational purposes. The road to preservation was a long and trying one. Now or Never began a grassroots campaign to save a patch of 237-acre land, and they were determined to meet their goal. Today, the landscape exists to protect both at-risk and threatened species, encourage extensive research, raise the public’s awareness on preservation, and to provide a place to hike. The area’s significance lies in its location where tropical and temperate zones meet. The mix of ambience acts as a nest of vast biodiversity.
Backstory and Context
During the Cretaceous Period about 65-141 million years ago, the area that is now Wild Basin was covered by a shallow sea which eventually retreated into what is now the Gulf of Mexico. When this happened, it left behind fossils of the different creatures alive then, which can be found still today along Loop 360. The area then became swampy and pushed a lot of sediment into the Gulf. About 500,000 years ago, the Colorado River began to erode the current canyon that exists today, creating two different environments on the sides of the Mount Bonnell fault line. The western, Edwards Plateau side is filled with rolling hills and shallow soil while the eastern, Blackland Prairie side consists of sufficient farmland with deep soil. Wild Basin itself is located on the upper side of the fault and was once covered heavily with cedar and oak trees so dense that it was untouched until the late nineteenth-century.
As the speed of urbanization around Austin increased in the 1970s, some locals grew concerned about the potential for the extinguishing of greenspace. Now or Never represented just such a group. Now or Never was comprised of seven ladies: Margaret Hessen, Lucille Stegman, Flora McCormick, Janet Poage, Flo Macklin, Martha Hudson, and Willa Mae Hardesty; together they decided to preserve land along Loop 360 from becoming another suburb.
Marshall C. Johnston, former professor at the University of Texas, wrote to Now or Never in response to a request from the organization. He conducted research at the basin and concluded the area would be ideal for research if kept preserved. Shortly after, articles were published announcing the formal proposal of a wilderness park located at Wild Basin. Ultimately, it made sense financially for developers to leave Wild Basin as is because of contamination to the soil due to illegal dumping and cost-inefficiencies involved in making the land suitable for construction. There was a crucial piece of land up for sale with a prospective buyer that would prove detrimental to the present ecosystem if touched. The urgency instilled in Now or Never and their supporters both motivation and persistence towards conservation.
Then president Janet Poage proposed the preservation of Wild Basin to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) where it was initially rejected for being too small to be a park. Moving forward was an uphill battle of finding people to listen and contribute to the the group’s wishes of having a small slice of wilderness stay it was. The women went through numerous organizations such as the Capital Area Planning Council, County Commissioners, The Nature Conservancy, city officials, as well as the then-governor’s wife, Janey Briscoe. The women pleaded with anybody who was willing to hear them out. The challenges of the campaign for preserving this natural space was absolutely no match for a group of empowered women. They understood it was up to them to find the money, so they did exactly that and raised the money alone. Moreover, grants ranging from $950 to $25,000 were given to fund the construction of Wild Basin. Over the next three years, $284,000 cash and more than $370,000 worth of donated land were given to Travis County for the establishment of Wild Basin. Matching funds of $654,000 were granted to buy the land. The 227-acre preserve was completed in the early 1980s when Davenport Ranch donated 12 acres and the U.S. government matched the donation to purchase the remaining holes in the preserve.
Now or Never pursued various and diverse ways to raise money. The group organized fashion show benefits. These events were relatively luxurious as the women who hosted them came from a higher socioeconomic class thus had connections to big names. A first fashion show was held where admission cost $25 with some $50 patron tickets, although tickets could be had for as little as $3 for students and $5 for adults. The charity events were planned for and attracted people of affluent backgrounds. The monthly newsletters published by Wild Basin included a monthly calendar listing park events taking place for that month. For instance, a garage sale held August 1985 raised around $900, a large amount for a garage sale in the 1980s. Any place or event they could hold to raise a few extra dollars, they did.
Today, Wild Basin hosts numerous events designed to allow the public to interact with the environment to maintain the awareness of the city's green space. Even though the trails at the preserve are open every day to the public, there are as well-organized educational hikes for those who are wanting to learn more about Wild Basin. For example, to preserve and continue with public outreach on the green space the staff at Wild Basin holds clean ups and educational hikes at least twice a month usually on the weekend. A handful of these events have a common theme to attract the targeted public for instance there are programs for those to enjoy the fine arts and culture who are attracted to the preserve due to the scenery it holds. Whether the reason to go to come to the preserve ranges between health and well being or for the fine arts and culture, there are many programs and events that can bring the Austin community to Wild Basin. The most up-to-date events can be found on the Wild Basin website.
Additionally, the awareness to the maintenance of the preserve works to keep a clean and habitable place for a number of native plant and wildlife species. For instance, the most known wildlife species known to inhabit Wild Basin is the Golden-Cheeked Warbler, a songbird which was stated to be endangered in May 1990 by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department; and not so surprising it is due to the endangerment of its environment. Furthermore, a rare orchid source (Hexalectris) was found in the preserve in mid-1996. Researchers at the time did not know what specific species of Hexalectris was inhabiting the land at first, because they based the finding of the Crested Coral-Root (Hexalectris Spicata) on the Hexalectris Nitida.
- Wild Basin Newsletter, “Land Gift & Building Grant,” February 1987, Wild Basin Archive, Austin, Texas
- Wild Basin Newsletter, “Benefit Con’t,” September 1979, Wild Basin Archive, Austin, Texas
- Wild Basin Newsletter, “Grant to Wild Basin,” September 1979, Wild Basin Archive, Austin, Texas
- Jim Berry, “Bandits Make Off With Wild Basin Funds”, 24 March 1978, Wild Basin Archive, Austin, Texas.
- Brenda Bell, "Wild Basin gets funds", 15 December 1976, Wild Basin Archive, Austin, Texas.
- Poage, Janet. "Wild Basin of Bee Creek". Accessed November 21st 2019.
- Wild Basin, "About Wild Basin," Accessed December 9, 2019, https://www.stedwards.edu/academics/centers-institutes/wild-basin-creative-research-center/about-us.