Developers Offered a Texas Family Millions for Their Land. They Chose to Make It a Park Instead.
Daniel Kozmetsky wades through a sea of lemon-yellow wildflowers growing along a ridge and looks over a wide valley that stretches in front of him, part of the sprawling RGK Ranch his grandparents founded half a century ago. “This is the spot,” he says, sweeping out his arm as though introducing a star on a stage. “This is where developers stood and said, ‘We could put a lot of houses on that hill over there.’ ”.

Instead of a sea of rooftops, though, this former cattle ranch between Hamilton Pool Road and Highway 71 in western Travis County, about thirty minutes west of downtown Austin, will become a park where hikers can take in Hill Country vistas and explore a tributary of Bee Creek that spills over a series of limestone ledges. Travis County officials are using funds from the Proposition B Parks Bond Measure, which voters passed last November, to purchase the 1,507-acre parcel where a subdivision was once planned.

George and Ronya Kozmetsky bought the first part of their ranch in the early 1970s. Over the years, the family added more land to the property until it reached nearly 1,600 acres. George and Ronya’s descendants are now selling all but about 90 acres of that land to Travis County for $90 million, nearly $30 million less than its appraised value and far below the $130 million that developers had offered. The family will retain the remaining land, which includes a house and small lake.

George Kozmetsky, who died in 2003, was an entrepreneur who made a fortune with Teledyne, a company he cofounded before moving to Austin and becoming a major player in the city’s nascent tech scene. He and his wife, Ronya, gave millions to charitable causes through their RGK Foundation. Family members credit Nadya Scott, the Kozmetskys’ daughter, for her vision of turning the family land into a public park. “It very much was her desire, because she has been blessed by a lot of what Austin has done [for our family],” says her son, Jordan Scott, who grew up in California but now lives in Austin.

The transaction continues a two-decade collaboration between area landowners, Travis County, and the Nature Conservancy to preserve land in the fast-growing area surrounding Hamilton Pool. “The property was permitted for 1,400 houses and 150 acres of commercial development, including apartments and shopping centers,” says Jeff Francell, associate director of land protection for the Nature Conservancy in Texas, which facilitated the transaction. “Instead of rooftops, they’re turning that property, which is incredibly close to Reimers Ranch, into a park everyone can use.”

“She’s traveled the world and seen some pretty beautiful spaces that people have saved to share with others rather than develop or make private,” Jordan Scott said of his mother. “She felt strongly that the RGK Ranch should be preserved as a space for everyone in Central Texas.”

For more than 50 years, RGK Ranch has been a private family retreat bearing the initials of Ronya and George Kozmetsky. She was a philanthropist who supported everything from children’s hospitals to higher education. He was Austin’s tech godfather, a visionary who transformed what is now the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas during his 16 years as dean. Together the couple mentored numerous Austin tech philanthropists.

Now the ranch that the Kozmetskys passed on to their children and grandchildren is going to become a massive wilderness park. This month Travis County is finalizing the purchase of 1,506 acres off Texas 71 between Bee Cave and Spicewood. “To know those spaces will remain in their natural condition, and other people will have their own experiences seeing a ringtail cat or watching a 15-point buck walk out, to know that’s going to stay with the people of Central Texas is what gives me the goose bumps,” Scott said.

County officials are thrilled: RGK Ranch is one of the last major undeveloped tracts in southwestern Travis County that just as easily could have become a sea of rooftops. Preserving it brings a wealth of environmental benefits.


Image courtesy Erich Schlegel

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