West­cave Pre­serve:: A hid­den eco­log­i­cal gem

Guide to Dripping Springs - - Westcave Perserve: 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.

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