WHAT IS THE ARANSAS FIRST LAND TRUST?
If you haven’t heard of the Aransas First Land Trust, listen up, because soon you won’t be able to forget them! This awesome organization preserves and protects ecologically sensitive land, water, drainage, and species habitats, so that we can all enjoy them into perpetuity.
The unique coastal wetlands of Aransas Bay and surrounding areas are not only home to wildlife and protected species, (part of the main artery for migrating birds, and a popular tourist spot on the Texas Gulf) but form a singular, essential habitat for native species of birds and wildlife.
Interacting with nature and experiencing it first-hand improves and enhances our lives too, and with that appreciation comes a concern for environmental protection. It was this impetus that initiated the formation of the Aransas First Land Trust, started June 26th, 2001, by concerned members of the Aransas Bird and Nature Club.
WHAT DO THEY DO?
The Aransas First Land Trust has been quietly working to preserve and protect our wetlands, shorelines and forests. They built an 800-foot boardwalk over tidal flats creating the North Cove Harbor Wetland Sanctuary, cleared invasive species, recreated wetlands, established trails for birding and education, and worked with developers to ensure surface drainage does not interrupt natural water flow. The trust has funded hydraulic engineering studies for restoring marshes, built covered pavilions for observation, deepened ponds, and even created small ponds and streams along the hike and bike trails.
THEIR MISSION STATEMENT: As a 501(c) 3 organization, Aransas First strives to identify, acquire, and protect sensitive coastal lands and promote public awareness through education, access, and participation.
Aransas First also established an outdoor education classroom for ACISD and the general-public, promoted “smart growth” land management practices, and established the County Storm Water Management program as well as the creation of PATHWAYS, a county tourism enhancement project funded by venue tax on hotels and motels.
Since the beginning they have worked with the city of Rockport-Fulton, Aransas County, other non-profits, various school systems and universities, TXDOT, and Aransas County Navigation District to “gain grants, lease access, acquire properties and conservation easements, and plan for the enhancement of the environment and quality of life.”
WHY DO WE NEED THEM?
Another goal of the trust is to help sustainable economic development in the community. In 2007, post Harvey, they created the Green Corridor Committee. To manage storm water runoff, they helped create recreational trails on drainage easements, which future developments could connect with. The Texas Land Conservancy, a state-wide trust, defines their mission as dedicated to “Protecting the land, water, and wildlife of Texas from the negative effects of land fragmentation and poorly planned development.”
WHAT IS A LAND TRUST? A land trust is a legal entity that takes ownership of, or authority over, a piece of property at the behest of the property owner. Like other trusts, each land trust’s terms are unique.
According to the Land Conservancy, Texas is losing its rural land faster than any other state in the country and less than 2% of lands are protected including state and local parks. Since over 95% of Texas land is privately owned, the Aransas First Trust also works with landowners to find economically advantageous protections from encroaching development and to prioritize the future protection of land and water. Dr. Matthew, who is also on the board of the Texas Land Conservancy, says, “The advantage a local Land Trust has over a large state-wide trust is that we are a local citizen organization working directly for their own community’s benefit.”
WHAT HAVE THEY DONE?
In preserving our wetlands for future generations, Aransas First has already accomplished restoration of the Tule Creek Marsh native habitat, acquired 13 acres, and manages 107 acres of Aransas Woods, created the Live Oak Nature Education Center, built the Cove Harbor Boardwalk, holds the conservation easement on the Connie Hagar Bird Sanctuary, acquired the Woods Beachfront, and Myrtle Street Tracts of land, and many other significant actions of conservation and preservation.
Post-Harvey, they helped clear debris, replaced the Aransas Woods Windmill with a solar pump, and restored the demo garden, amongst other projects.
TAX BREAKS FOR LANDOWNERS! Landowners who use conservation easements to transfer development rights to a conservation land trust can receive a tax benefit while protecting the land from future negative usage.
WHAT DO THEY WANT TO DO?
A major goal of the trust is to help with sustainable economic development in the community. If developers, County, Cities, and Navigation district can work together to ensure slow, but unimpeded, surface drainage to the bays, it creates green space, allows for hiking trails, and retention ponds, preserves our native habitat, and does not interrupt natural surface or underground water flow.
The organization is actively involved with the preservation of the wetlands of the critical Upland Lamar Peninsula Habitat, and Dr. Earl Matthew, who also President of Aransas First, and one of members of the original technical committee of the Storm Water Management Plan, says, “Overground drainage preserves the integrity of natural drainage pathways and can be less expensive for developers.” Developers in the area can connect to existing recreational trails and drainage easements to the benefit of their projects and the community.
COMMUNITY PARTNERS: City of Rockport, TX, The State of Texas, Aransas County Navigation District, the Rockport Fulton Chamber of Commerce, TXDOT, Texas Land Trust Council, Texas Conservation Alliance, Aransas Pathways, Aransas Bird and Nature Club, Mid-Coast Chapter of the Texas Master Naturalist
HOW DO THEY DO IT?
Aransas First relies on community support in multiple ways, primarily through donations (monetary and land), volunteering, and event attendance. Regular community outreach for educational and fundraising purposes, writing grants for governmental funding, land leases, and conservation easements (tax deductible!) are just some of the practices that Aransas First employs to defend the ecological integrity of our land, water, wildlife, native species and habitats, and local scenery, for the benefit of humanity. Recent recognition by the community of the need to preserve green space and critical ecology is leading Aransas First to initiate a major fundraising program to continue the excellent work they have begun.
Stay tuned for details!
Aransas County is a sensitive ecosystem that must be protected to ensure the continuation of multiple species and ecospheres for the future enjoyment of people everywhere.
We salute Aransas First for their dedication to land and water conservation, pollution management, education, and the protection of the important and unique environments of Aransas County.
THE LEADERS OF ARANSAS FIRST
Original members included Curtis Reemsnyder, and Lowell Kepps as President and Vice President, respectively. They were quickly joined by David Herring and John Atwood, retired engineers with roots in Aransas County since the 1800s. With help from Herb Wisch, Dinah Dyner, John Beree, and Francis Hicks, Aransas First went from a shoe-string organization where each member donated $500, to the smoothly run non-profit operation it is today, with 15 full-time board members, 8 at-large members, emeritus members along with 7 community organization representatives such as the Chamber of Commerce, the Board of Realtors, the Historical Commission, educators, and Master Naturalists.