The Coastal Bend Bays & Estuaries Program recently expanded its property holdings, while announcing plans to restore wildlife habitat on its Nueces Delta Preserve.
The land acquisition stems from donations from the Atlanta-based developer of Cinnamon Shore in Port Aransas. The bays and estuaries program now owns a 17-acre tract that runs along Zahn Road on Mustang Island, and a 33-acre parcel on South Padre Island.
Both barrier island properties include wetlands, tidal flats, coastal prairies, and dunes.
The property along Zahn Road represents part of a failed $200 million housing development, where empty streets, utilities and streetlights remain. The bays and estuaries program will work with Cinnamon Shore developer, Sea Oats Group, to remove this infrastructure and return the land to its natural state.
Sea Oats was not involved in Tortuga Dunes, but purchased the land after the fact, which includes additional acreage outside of the Tortuga Dunes site. Sea Oats has no definite plans for the additional property, according to a company spokesperson.
Included in the Sea Oats donation is $70,000, which will be used to help offset costs associated with maintaining the natural habitat, said Jake Herring, director of land conservation for the bays and estuaries program.
The Tortuga Dunes parcel adds to a 62-acre contiguous tract held by the bays and estuaries program.
Nueces County owns another 210 undeveloped acres that abuts the bays and estuaries property to the south and Mustand Island State Park to the north. Piecing together these contiguous natural landscapes is an important part of providing uninterrupted wildlife habitat at a time when natural landscapes are rapidly disappearing, Herring said.
“I can’t speak for the county, but I would hope that the threat of development of the 210 acres is relatively low,” he said.
Discussions between the county and the estuaries program are leaning toward an agreement to conserve the 210 acres as wildlife habitat, said Scott Cross, director of Coastal Parks for Nueces County. The area is home to protected and threatened birds such as the piping plover and the red knot.
“We’d like to see it maintained as a natural area,” Cross said. “We’d even consider a conservation easement that allows some public access.”
Nearby, the Texas General Land Office controls nearly 1,000 acres on Mustang Island, along the west side of State Highway 361. Plus, the estuaries program owns most of another 53 acres of pristine bayfront to the north, known as the Kate’s Hole at Packery Flats Coastal Habitat. It’s open to the public.
ANOTHER PROJECT IN THE WORKS
Meanwhile, the bays and estuaries program will continue its stewardship mission inland, on its 10,500-acre outdoor classroom near Odem. Education is a leading purpose behind the Nueces Delta Preserve, where efforts are ongoing to restore the natural dynamics of a delta system impaired by decades of agricultural use.
Annually, dozens of outdoor education programs are staged there for thousands of school children, teachers and families. Part of the classroom includes a traditionally brackish tidal pool called Goose Lake.
Old ranch roads altered the natural topography and hydrology of this low-lying area. Though culverts were installed by previous owners to allow for saltwater inundation, those structures are crumbling, effectively preventing saltwater inflow during high tide.
So the estuaries program will restore the natural hydrology by returning this portion of the property to its more natural state. Funding will come from a $236,000 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency grant.
When fair weather returns, R.S. Parker Construction will begin the earth work, which should be completed within two months of the start, Herring said.