Location: Travis County
Region: Texas Hill Country/Blackland Prairie
Size: 150 acres
Ownership: Owned by NPAT with conservation easement held by City of Austin Wildlands Department
In early 2020, NPAT was contacted about a potential conservation project. We then contacted Candice Allmand, Executor of the Caroline Dowell Estate Trust to get more information. In March 2020, after some internal discussion, a group of us met with Candice, her husband Steve and ranch staff, Dan Huebner and Gary Flemmons, to tour the property and discuss the project. Candice was still deciding what to do with the property. Ms. Dowell’s will stated that the land needed to go to a corporation organized and operated for a charitable, scientific or educational purpose. The property was to be used for a conservation purpose, but could not be a public park. This fit in with our mission. We agreed that it had potential as an NPAT preserve.
Ms. Dowell had passed away in April 2019. She lived in San Leanna where she had a long history and had acquired a lot of property. She left behind many animals, including her show beagles. The estate trust spent much time after her death rehoming the cattle, goats, donkeys, horses and beagles. (A few of the animals remain.) The 150-acre ranch property is recovering from heavy grazing. What we saw was definitely a restoration project and land in recovery. But its proximity to Austin and location on the Onion Creek watershed gave it great potential.
There are multiple pastures, a woodland outcrop, a spring, ponds, one of the oldest monitoring wells for the Edwards Aquifer, and lots of structures. There is an old ranch house named the Bird House, after the former owners. The soils vary from Hill Country limestone to clay-based, dark soils. The history of this corner of deep south Austin is interesting, with open space disappearing quickly to development.
On June 30, 2021 the Estate of Caroline Dowell donated the 150-acre Dowell Ranch to NPAT. The donation of land came with an endowment that will enable NPAT to steward the property and begin restoration work. The ranch house now serves as our main office—an added bonus.
Ms. Allmand wanted the property doubly protected. In October 2021, a conservation easement, held by the City of Austin Wildlands Department was placed on the ranch. This property will remain in its natural state in perpetuity. Being part of the Onion Creek watershed, puts it close to the City’s water quality protection lands.
This property will be used for education and research, with a focus on restoration. We are hosting monthly volunteer workdays on the second Saturday of the month. Projects include pocket prairies, increasing plant diversity, native plant gardens, woodland and wetland restoration, as well as plant and animal surveys to document changes over time.
A TPWD Pastures for Upland Birds (PUB) grant will begin the restoration process in the summer of 2022. The area of focus will be 25-acre pastures in the northwest section of the ranch.
A generous grant from the Hall Foundation is funding university restoration research plots in a southeast pasture. These will study different treatments to restore native grasslands from non-native grass dominated pastures.