Grand Canyon of Texas Viewshed Protected
The views from inside Palo Duro Canyon State Park, the United States’ second largest canyon, will remain grand thanks to the addition of a 2,912-acre property known as Fortress Cliffs Ranch. The tract has been purchased by a coalition that includes The Trust for Public Land (TPL) and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD), protecting almost six miles of scenic cliffs along the park’s northeastern edge.
The Fortress Cliffs Ranch (formerly Tub Springs Ranch) was put up for sale more than a year ago, raising concerns that the highly visible bluff could be impacted by houses or other development. John Watson, CEO of ranch broker Orvis/Cushman & Wakefield, wanted to find a stewardship buyer, so he contacted conservation groups, including TPL. A TPL representative contacted TPWD, and the two agencies began exploring ways to acquire the land. TPL ultimately purchased the property and transferred it to TPWD.
A recent independent appraisal valued the property at $5.22 million, which the partners were able to pay by tapping various sources. TPWD provided $1.86 million from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund, which was matched by a private donation from an anonymous donor to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation. Another $1.5 million was appropriated by the Texas Legislature in a rider specifying the funds should be used to add land to Palo Duro Canyon State Park.
“The rare chance to protect six miles of cliffs overlooking the ‘Grand Canyon of Texas,’ to keep that bluff looking the way the first Texans saw it-this is unparalleled,” said Carter Smith, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department executive director. “Palo Duro Canyon may not be near our state’s biggest cities, but I know all Texans can appreciate the significance of this acquisition for our park system. It’s for everyone alive today, and for generations to come.”
The Fortress Cliffs property is located about 15 miles southeast of Amarillo in Randall and Armstrong Counties, sharing seven miles of boundary with the state park. The acquisition will protect ecologically significant break, cliff face and rim rock habitat, as well as High Plains shortgrass prairie, and transitional brush and slope habitats, all of which are important for the wildlife and ecology of the region. After the acquisition, the park will comprise 29,187 acres, with the new tract making up almost 10 percent of the total.
“The Palo Duro Canyon embodies Texas’ sense of place and spirit like few other areas in the state,” said Nan McRaven, Texas State director for The Trust for Public Land. “We’re honored to help protect the unique views here and preserve an iconic symbol of the American west for the public to continue to enjoy.”
The previous owners of Fortress Cliffs Ranch, Kim and Brenda Gaynor, spent many hours and invested a substantial sum of money on the ranch to clear brush species, stimulate grass and forbs production and enhance the wildlife habitat. The range condition has improved dramatically through a less intensive cattle grazing management program and an extremely wet year in 2007.
When TPW Commissioner Mark Bivins of Amarillo and other local leaders became aware of the possibility that the ranch would be developed they visited the ranch to meet with the Gaynors, accompanied by various partner representatives.
“We had known the ranch was on the market for some time and we were informed that the potential of it being sold to a developer was getting stronger and stronger,” Bivins said. “My hat’s off to The Trust for Public Land, the Parks and Wildlife staff, and to the brokerage Orvis/Cushman & Wakefield-they managed to pull off a daunting and complicated conservation achievement.”
“This acquisition helps prevent development from disturbing the natural beauty in and around the canyon,” said Wales H. Madden, Jr., longtime Amarillo civic leader and past president of the Texas Panhandle Heritage Foundation. “Neighboring development is compromising views of certain parts of the rim. We’re resting easier knowing that this portion of the viewshed is safe.”
As a result of the Gaynor’s stewardship, wildlife diversity and abundance on the ranch are excellent, including populations of blue quail, bobwhite quail, Rio Grande turkey, bobcat, mule deer, white-tailed deer, coyote, roadrunners, skunks, rabbits and songbirds.
The property includes a three-acre lake on the tract’s east side, recently deepened for livestock watering and stocked with bass. Tub Springs is an intermittent natural spring located in the canyon rim, draining to the Prairie Dog Town Fork of the Red River.
The steep margins of the Fortress Cliffs consist of bright, banded layers of orange, red, brown, yellow, and white rocks that represent four geologic periods in a time span of more than 240 million years. Fossils of long-extinct animals and plants have been found embedded in the rock layers. Adding to the site’s scenic grandeur are numerous pinnacles, buttes, and mesas.
A thorough cultural resource review needs to be completed on the property. A significant number of archeological sites have been recorded in and around Palo Duro Canyon, including the remains of human habitations throughout the past 12,000 years. Five general culture periods are recognized for the region, all with distinctive human cultural aspects, such as large game kill sites, butchering locales and caches.
The property will eventually be accessible to the public for recreational use such as hiking, although it’s too early to say what might be possible and when. The park staff will develop a plan proposing management and use of the tract, integrating it into existing resource management and public use plans. The planning process will take months, and will involve input from the public and various stakeholders.
About Texas Parks and Wildlife Department
Texas Parks and Wildlife works to manage and conserve the natural and cultural resources of Texas and to provide hunting, fishing and outdoor recreation opportunities for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations. This includes managing 93 state parks and 51 wildlife management areas. In addition, fisheries and wildlife biologists offer technical assistance to private landowners, and game wardens enforce laws to protect wildlife and the environment and safeguard people and property.
About The Trust for Public Land
The Trust for Public Land is a national nonprofit dedicated to conserving land for people to enjoy as parks and open space. Since 1972, TPL has conserved more than 2.5 million acres of land nationwide. In Texas, TPL has protected more than 32,000 acres for communities, including areas in and around Arlington, Austin, Dallas, Denton, Houston, Corpus Christi and San Antonio. TPL depends on the support and generosity of individuals, foundations and businesses to achieve its land for people mission.Palo Duro Canyon State Park is located about 12 miles east of Canyon on State Highway 217. Entry fees are $4 per day for adults, free for children under age 13. For more information, contact the park at (806) 488-2227.