Stories in Texas

Honey Creek Ranch: Sweet Conservation Spot of the Texas Hill Country

This 515-acre acquisition in Central Texas will protect the headwaters of Honey Creek, preserve water quality and expand recreational opportunities.

A turquoise river lined with dense, green trees.
A PRISTINE RIVER The crystal-clear, spring-fed waters of Honey Creek run for 2.5 miles before meeting the Guadalupe River, which ultimately flows into the Gulf of Mexico. © Dave Sims Media

Just 30 miles outside of San Antonio, a pristine stream still runs wild. The clear waters of Honey Creek flow for 2.5 miles from its source, rolling over limestone boulders as it winds through the Hill Country before finally meeting the Guadalupe River. Fed by natural springs, the cypress-lined creek supports diverse plant and wildlife species at the Honey Creek State Natural Area. This 2,300-acre protected area brings new meaning to a “land of milk and honey,” with an abundance of natural beauty and ecological value.

A stone pathway leads to a wooden pavilion surrounded by green grass.
Protecting Land and Water Honey Creek Ranch spans nearly 600 acres, with part of the upper headwater drainage of this critical creek running through the property. © Dave Sims Media

What Lies Above and Beneath

Honey Creek State Natural Area and the adjacent Guadalupe River State Park are located in one of the fastest-growing regions not only in the state, but also in the nation. It’s estimated that nearly 500 people move to Texas each day. As Central Texas continues to grow, it’s especially important that we carve out spaces that protect natural areas. The conservation value of the Hill Country remains irreplaceable with its rolling hills and rugged terrain, dotted by limestone cliffs, canyons and rivers.

Several important bird species, like the endangered golden-cheeked warbler and rare black-capped vireo, depend on the oak and juniper woodlands native to this region. Wild turkeys, bobcats and white-tailed deer can also be found roaming the Hill Country habitat. Its defining karst features allow water to trickle down through porous limestone into the underlying Edwards Aquifer, a source of drinking water for millions of Central Texans. The aquifer also supports many spring-fed rivers, lakes and creeks, where rare aquatic species, like the Comal blind salamander and Guadalupe bass, are only found.

A bird with a yellow head and black and white feathers sits on a thin branch.
Endangered Song Bird The federally listed golden-cheeked warbler nests exclusively in the scrub brush of Central Texas. © Rich Kostecke
A pink salamander with frilly external gills and no eyes.
Endemic amphibian The Comal blind salamander, or Honey Creek Cave blind salamander, is found only in the underwater caves fed by the Edwards Aquifer. © Dante Fenolio

A Golden Opportunity for Conservation

When a 1,600-home housing development was proposed on an unspoiled 515-acre tract in Comal County, known as Honey Creek Ranch, The Nature Conservancy in Texas (TNC), Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD), Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation  (TPWF) and local community members knew they needed to act. Runoff and waste from this potential development posed risks to the water quality of Honey Creek, the Edwards Aquifer and Canyon Lake Reservoir—which roughly 36,000 Texans depend on for drinking water.

Cypress trees with thick roots line a trickling creek, flowing over large pale boulders.
A Land of Milk and Honey Honey Creek received its name from the abundance of honeybees found buzzing about near the creek. Its namesake may also be attributed to the unique limestone features of the region, often referred to as "honeycomb rock.” © Dave Sims Media

After months of discussions with property owners Ronnie and Terry Urbanczyk, nearby school officials and stakeholders, TNC and TPWD reached an agreement, protecting the acreage and the creek’s headwaters in perpetuity—a major win for the conservation community. The best part: the land will ultimately be incorporated into the Honey Creek State Natural Area, offering folks the chance to camp, hike, swim and more.

An Ending Sweet as Honey

The protection of Honey Creek Ranch represents a collective endeavor to safeguard an invaluable slice of the Texas Hill Country. This acquisition was funded in part by TPWD’s Land and Water Conservation Fund allocation—which was recently expanded by the passage of the Great American Outdoors Act in 2020. Thanks to this bipartisan legislation, the state's budget for land acquisitions from federal funding went from $3 million to more than $17 million overnight. The Fund, which requires a "one-to-one" match, allowed TNC and partners to leverage both private donations and state funding to take full advantage of these new federal funds and make a big impact.

A woman stands beside a thick tree trunk gazing at clear waters.
Recreation Destination Thousands of people visit the Honey Creek State Natural Area and Guadalupe River State Park each year. This acquisition will expand and enhance public access in an area where open space is quickly disappearing. © Dave Sims Media

“This has been one of the most challenging—and rewarding--transactions of my 25-year career working on land conservation,” said Jeff Francell, TNC Texas Director of Land Protection. “If we had not been successful in buying the property, it would have been developed into more than 1,000 houses with a wastewater system right at the headwaters of pristine Honey Creek. These creek and spring systems are so fragile in the Hill Country that the water quality would have been significantly diminished, impacting not just the ecosystem but the thousands of people who get to enjoy it every year.”

A wooden water tank surrounded by stone with a sign reading Honey Creek Ranch.
A RICH HISTORY Honey Creek Ranch was owned and managed by the Urbanczyk Family for over three decades prior to the acquisition. However, German immigrants first settled in the area in the mid-1800s. © Dave Sims Media

Although complex, this land deal has proven to be worth the wait. Thanks to the help of willing landowners, Comal ISD, TPWF, partners and funders like the Horizon Foundation, Karen Hixon, Knobloch Family Foundation, Mays Family Foundation, Jacob and Terese Hershey Foundation, Kronkosky Charitable Foundation, The Meadows Foundation and Amy Shelton McNutt Charitable Trust, we’ve created a more resilient and connected Central Texas landscape—helping nature thrive, keeping freshwater resources clean and enhancing opportunities for relaxation and recreation. Together, this work has ensured that the sweet waters of Honey Creek can continue to flow for future generations to enjoy.

TNC's Work in the Honey Creek Watershed

Two people in helmets wade through water in a cave.
Honey Creek Cave Honey Creek Cave, Central Texas. © The Nature Conservancy in Texas


Sweet Beginnings

TNC first acquires 1,825 acres in the region. Four decades later, this area would become even more of a critical conservation priority due to continued development and growth.

A winding blue river lined with tall, dense trees.
Honey Creek SNA 3 Honey Creek SNA in Central Texas. © Dave Sims Media


The Birth of a State Park

TNC transfers its initial acreage to TPWD to create the 2,294-acre Honey Creek State Natural Area. Together with the adjacent Guadalupe River State Park, these lands encompass nearly 5,000 acres of protected habitat.

Water trickles over limestone boulders covered in moss.
Love Creek Preserve Water flows through Love Creek in Bandera, Texas. © Ian Shive


The Public Speaks

Voters approve San Antonio's first publicly financed measure to safeguard the Edwards Aquifer, creating the Edwards Aquifer Protection Program. Since 2000, TNC and partners have protected more than 95,000 acres over the aquifer.

Water falls over stacked rocks into a creek.
Honey Creek Spring Ranch Honey Creek Spring Ranch now protects 621 acres of critical habitat in the Texas Hill Country. © Texas Parks and Wildlife Department


Protecting Caves and Critters

TNC purchases a conservation easement on 621 acres at Honey Creek Spring Ranch. The land, located next to the Guadalupe River State Park, protects the longest cave in Texas, endemic species and the spring that feeds Honey Creek.

A windmill looms in front of a house surrounded by green grass and trees.
Honey Creek Ranch Honey Creek Ranch in Central Texas. © Dave Sims Media


Expanding Public Access

TNC and partners protect 515 acres of Honey Creek Ranch in perpetuity. This transaction is one of the largest deals that TPWD’s Land and Water Conservation Fund has ever been used for in Texas to date.