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WESTCAVE PRESERVE. Westcave Preserve, a privately operated natural area, is located a mile west of Hamilton Pool and thirty miles west of Austin in western Travis County. German pioneers called the area "West Caves" because of its location west of the Pedernales River. The land was set aside by the Republic of Texas as unappropriated school land, but the state sold it in the 1950s. The property changed ownership several times and was much abused by campers and tourists who admired the natural beauty but took little care to preserve it. In 1974 John Covert Watson, an Austin resident, purchased twenty-six acres and established the Westcave Preserve Corporation; Alfred Glenn, a neighboring landowner, later deeded an additional three acres to the preserve. The Westcave Preserve Corporation, which received nonprofit status in 1976, had two goals: to keep the site open to the public and to manage it in a way that allowed for public enjoyment with minimal disturbance to the environment. Dependent entirely on donations and grants to fund its efforts, the corporation ended up having to borrow heavily to meet payments on its debts. When financial difficulties finally became too large a burden for the project, the Lower Colorado River Authority purchased the lien on the property in 1981 and gave the corporation a 99-year lease at a nominal fee with an option to renew. Work at the preserve was done by the resident manager, John Ahrns, and by volunteers. The preserve's main feature is a collapsed limestone grotto that forms a canyon. A mile-long trail leads down about 125 feet to the bottom of the canyon and the entrance to the cave. The almost tropical climate at the canyon floor, in the summer often fifteen to twenty degrees cooler than the area at the top, permits the growth of lush vegetation, including cypress, sycamores, mosses, ferns, columbine, and wild orchids. The golden-cheeked warbler, cedar waxwing, nutria, and ring-tailed cat are among the species that find refuge at Westcave. Guided tours, limited to thirty people each, have a regular schedule on the weekends but are conducted by appointment only on weekdays; most of the weekday tours are scheduled by school, church, scout, nature, and senior groups.
BIBLIOGRAPHY:John Ahrns and Jack Grieder, "Westcave Preserve: A Semitropical Grotto in the Hill Country," Texas Parks and Wildlife, May 1980. Eleanor Morris, "Green Grows the Grotto," Texas Highways, June 1987. Judy Stanford, "John Ahrns: Law West of the Pedernales," Texas Parks and Wildlife, September 1991. Judy Stanford, "Westcave Preserve: Wilderness Reborn," Texas Parks and Wildlife, September 1991. Third Coast, March 1984. Vertical Files, Austin History Center.
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