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Big Bend National Park Could Soon Expand By 3,500 Acres

(Carlos Morales / Marfa Public Radio)

By Carlos Morales

The wide-open expanses of Big Bend National Park could grow slightly more if a small Far West Texas ranch is absorbed into the park’s boundaries. 

A donation of a few thousand acres in South Terlingua could soon be added to the park’s limits, which currently stretches over 800,000 acres of brushy Chihuahuan Desert. But before that can happen, the land acquisition would first require federal legislation to amend the boundaries of the park. 

The sisters who own the 3,500-acre Fulcher Ranch in Terlingua approached the Big Bend Conservancy to ask about donating their land and seeing it incorporated into the national park.

Park Superintendent Bob Krumenaker updated the Brewster County Commissioners about the donation, which has been in the works for a while now. 

“Before any additional lands can be made part of the national park two things have to happen,” Krumenaker said during a Wednesday county commissioners meeting. “One, a  willing landowner has to either sell or donate their interest to the National Park Service. And two, federal legislation is required to amend the boundaries of the park.”

U.S. Congressman Will Hurd, who represents the Big Bend area, is drafting a bill to incorporate the Fulcher property into Big Bend National Park as well as other nearby parcels, which would total 6,100 acres. The park is interested in acquiring land that has “natural and cultural [resources] that would have great conservation value,” according to Krumenaker. 

If the bill passes though, that doesn’t mean the park will automatically absorb all the land outlined in Hurd’s legislation. Landowners that haven’t sold or donated their holdings will still retain their property, but if they ever want their land to become part of the national park, Congress will have already granted its approval.

Krumenaker emphasized the legislation does not give Big Bend National Park the right to seize any land and the decision to donate or sell would be up to any “willing landowner.” 

In a statement, Congressman Hurd explained the importance of increasing the park’s boundary and preserving the proposed area.

“This boundary change would protect the very rare and unique Terlingua Watershed, some of the most important fossil-bearing rocks in Big Bend and ruins of pioneer homesteads of both Anglos and Hispanics.”

The 3,500 acres the Fulcher Ranch covers would also expand the area around the park that shields it from the outside world, according to Raymond Skiles, a former park employee assisting with the park’s land acquisitions. 

He says having a healthy buffer area maintains “the quality experience of those who are in the national park trying to enjoy it.”

Skiles is currently reaching out to 30 property owners in Southern Brewster County who have parcels of land within the larger 3,500-acre Fulcher Ranch. He said none were against the idea of the national park expanding its borders and several sounded potentially interested in selling their land to the park as well.

Carlos Morales is Marfa Public Radio's News Director.