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From the Pen of Carter P. Smith

It is a gem among gems — a sprawling, 12,000-acre state natural area nestled in the limestone hills, canyons, creeks and crevasses of northwestern Bexar County, located a proverbial stone’s throw away from downtown San Antonio. Government Canyon’s picturesque scenery, rich biological diversity, varied terrain and expansive views are a magnet for those who want to experience the beauty of the Hill Country without venturing far from a major city.

But it almost wasn’t so.

Named for a well-plodded route used by early explorers, Indians, ranchers, trappers, traders and, ultimately, U.S. military personnel in the mid-1800s traveling between forts, Government Canyon was the site of an ambitious master-planned development in the 1980s glowingly called “New Town.” With promises of creating a brand-new community for up to 80,000 residents, the developers were going big. Alas, they went bust. And, like other failed projects of its kind and time, the bankrupt property ended up in the hands of the Resolution Trust Corporation, whose simple charge was to sell it off to the highest bidder.

With the property’s fate far from certain, an unlikely coalition of scientists, ranchers, preservationists, historians, cave enthusiasts, philanthropists and local/state leaders emerged to save the place. What brought them there (and, candidly, what has kept us there) was the water. 

More specifically, the Edwards Aquifer, that massive underground, cavernous repository that serves as the sole source of drinking water for the city of San Antonio. With almost all of its land sitting atop the recharge zone for the Edwards Aquifer, Government Canyon, with its abundant caves, fissures, sinkholes and other karst-related features, was the perfect place to try out a time-honored strategy well known to the region’s ranch people: If you want to protect the quality of your water, protect the land around and above it.

And so they did. Thanks to a series of extraordinary investments over time by the Edwards Aquifer Authority, the city of San Antonio, the San Antonio Water System, the Trust for Public Land, Karen and Tim Hixon, the Land and Water Conservation Fund and many others, Government Canyon State Natural Area came to be. And, in doing so, it became a model for public-private partnerships in Texas for how best to protect water by protecting land.

Government Canyon’s story is a rich one, made all the more so by the people who lived, worked, ranched, explored, played and traversed there. One such family with deep connections to the place needs no introduction to any South Texan familiar with the farming and ranching supply trade, the Kallisons of San Antonio. Nathan Kallison’s grandson Nick Kotz shares with readers in these pages the storied history of his and other ranching families who long stewarded the hills and valleys of what is now Government Canyon State Natural Area.

I hope you enjoy this edition of your magazine. If you enjoy history, nature, fishing, parks, birding, hunting or just plain ol’ accounts about cool things and places in the Texas outdoors, there’s something here for you.

Thanks for caring about our wild things and wild places. They need you now more than ever.

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