Westcave Preserve:: A hidden ecological gem
Nestled within the hill country landscape is one of Dripping Springs’ bestkept secrets – an ecological gem known as Westcave Preserve.
The dominant feature of the preserve is the limestone canyon that leads to a hidden grotto and waterfall. The canyon was formed when a limestone cave collapsed, thousands of years ago.
The site has been a nature preserve since 1974, and to help protect the formation from wear and tear, Westcave Preserve allows access to the grotto only during guided tours.
Tours feature a combination of cultural and natural history. “It’s informative – an overview of this part of Texas,” said Preserve Director John Ahrns.
The trail into the canyon is less than a half-mile in length, one way.A short, self-guided nature trail was recently completed as well. It is about a quarter-mile long and includes a mix of cultural and natural history information.
It is more than a spectacle, however. The 30-acre preserve is home to many species of wildlife, including six nesting pairs of the endangered golden-cheeked warbler. There are approximately 375 species of plants. The preserve is a sanctuary for wildlife, a living laboratory, and an educational resource.
“Our mission is conservation and environmental education,” said Ahrns.
The preserve is leased from LCRA, and is operated by a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation. There are at least 30 volunteers, including the board committee, docents, guides, and other workers. There are two paid program experts— John Ahrns and Dave Bennett.
Westcave has another impressive feature as well—its Visitors Center. The building is
also received the Texas Recreation and Parks Facilities Design Award.
“Architects all over the state look at this building,” said Ahrns. “ We wanted a sustainable building, with a human touch,” he said. The building was completed on March 21, 2003—the day of the equinox.
The Visitors Center features a unique solar observatory. Light streaming through a small hole in the ceiling and markings on the floor relate the time of day to the time of year. The device is based on a very old design dating back to the 3rd century.
“It was used by a monastery to determine the exact date of Easter,” said Ahrns.
For those interested in taking an active role in the conservation effort, Westcave Preserve sells memberships, and is always looking for volunteers.
Westcave Preserve is approximately 18 miles from Dripping Springs. To get there, drive north on Ranch Rd. 12 for about 7.4 miles, turn left on Hamilton Pool Rd. and drive about 7.5 miles. Westcave Preserve is on the right.
Public tours are Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m., noon, and 2 and 4 p.m. School children and adults can also access Westcave during the week, if they call ahead of time.
“We will have classes for anyone with a legitimate workday request,” said Ahrns.
The preserve holds classes during the week, conducts spring and summer programs, and offers special tours.
No pets are allowed in the a true showpiece. Yet it fits in perfectly with its surroundings.
The Warren Skaaren Environmental Learning Center is named for the late writer of the Beetlejuice screenplay. The Warren Skaaren Charitable Trust donated the first $ 100,000 used to construct the center.
Robert Jackson Architects, the designers of the building, received the prestigious Merit Award from the American Institute of Architects. They preserve. Tours cost $5 for adults, $2 for children, and $15 per family, and are limited to the first 30 to arrive.
For more information, call (830) 825-3442, e-mail westcave@ moment. net, or visit www.westcave.org.