Honey Creek Spring Ranch — a 621-acre tract of land north of San Antonio that is home to several endangered species of birds and houses the Honey Creek Cave system — is now protected from any future development plans under new conservation protections announced Monday.

Thanks to the combined efforts of the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Nature Conservancy and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Honey Creek Spring Ranch is now under a conservation easement, the groups announced Monday.

Local and state environmentalists hope the move might inspire movement around protecting Honey Creek Ranch, the property located upstream of Honey Creek Spring Ranch.

Since 2018, local organizations such as the Greater Edwards Aquifer Alliance, Texas Cave Management Association, Bulverde Neighborhoods for Clean Water and other nearby landowners have been fighting to preserve the 515-acre tract of land due to its upstream proximity to the sensitive Honey Creek Cave and to the Edwards Aquifer recharge zone.

While owners Ronnie and Terry Urbanczyk once proposed replacing their ranch land with more than 1,600 homes and three schools, they had more recently expressed willingness to preserve it as a state park.

But a contract between the Urbanczyk’s and the Texas Water Supply Co. from 2018 has been a roadblock. Although Urbanczyk no longer wants either the development or the water for it, Texas Water Supply has thus far tried to hold him to the contract, which had guaranteed the company millions of dollars.

In a joint press release issued Monday, Suzanne Scott, state director for the Nature Conservancy in Texas, said this latest land-protection win helps create “a more resilient and connected Central Texas.”

“The Honey Creek Spring Ranch easement illustrates how landowners and agencies can collaborate to protect land, safeguard water and protect native and threatened species — critical work in rapidly growing areas like ours,” Scott said,

Honey Creek is a nearly untouched water source on private property near Guadalupe State Park. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Scott told the San Antonio Report she hoped the same could be possible for Honey Creek Ranch.

She said recent discussions about the Honey Creek Ranch have included “everyone at the table” — including Texas Water Supply — and they are trying to work out a deal to preserve the land.

“It’s a very complicated transaction, and we are continuing to show progress,” she said. “So we are still very optimistic.”

Carter Smith, executive director of Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, said the joint achievement to preserve Honey Creek Spring Ranch is a “critically important piece of the broader efforts to conserve Honey Creek and the surrounding watershed.”

Under the new protections, Honey Creek Spring Ranch will now be able to better protect the endangered bird species that nest on the property, such as the golden-cheek warbler and the black-capped vireo, said the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department press office.

Below Honey Creek Spring Ranch runs the Honey Creek Cave, Texas’ longest known cave, where many endangered species of fish, salamanders and reptiles live.

The cave connects to the Edward’s Aquifer, the vast limestone rock layer that holds the largest source of drinking water in the San Antonio region, said Greater Edwards Aquifer Alliance Executive Director Annalisa Peace, who called Monday’s announcement a win for the aquifer.

Protecting Honey Creek Spring Ranch was possible due to a “significant bargain sale from the landowners,” using funds from the Texas Farm and Ranch Lands Council, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s Farm and Ranch Lands Conservation Program and the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Agricultural Conservation Easement Program.

The protection of Honey Creek Spring Ranch builds on a history of conservation efforts in the region. In 1981, the Nature Conservancy acquired 1,825 acres in Comal County, which were transferred in 1985 to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to create the 2,294-acre Honey Creek State Natural Area. Honey Creek Spring Ranch will remain privately owned and managed.

Joyce Moore, one of the Honey Creek Spring Ranch co-owners, said she is thrilled to see this outcome for her family’s property.

“Six generations of my family have called this special place home,” Moore said. “And after 150 years, our stewardship efforts have always included leaving the land in a healthier state. With rampant development now occurring throughout the area, it is even more critical for my family to continue this legacy of conservation into the future.”

Lindsey Carnett

Lindsey Carnett is the Science & Utilities reporter for the San Antonio Report.