Patterson Lobs Another Christmas Surprise
Public access to Christmas Mountains is still uncertain
While the rest of Texas seems to believe the Christmas Mountains should and will become a part of Big Bend National Park, Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson has kicked up the dust yet again by announcing he is negotiating a new land-management deal with the ranch's neighbors.
The 9,270-acre tract of scrub and mountains in West Texas was previously managed for the General Land Office by the Christmas Mountains Association, but that agreement was terminated in May. On July 25, at a budget workshop for the Property Owners Association of Terlingua Ranch, Patterson announced he was negotiating a new deal with the association's board: For a nominal $10 annual fee, the board would be responsible for maintaining the land in exchange for limited hunting and hiking access. Patterson then handed out copies of the draft agreement to the crowd and made it available to the media. Previously, Patterson has rigorously resisted releasing information about any GLO contracts and bids before they were finalized, arguing that doing so could damage his negotiating position.
The mountains were donated to Texas in 1991 by the Conservation Fund. Patterson pushed for their sale last year, but in February the School Land Board rejected two private bids, leaving only a broadly supported National Park Service proposal on the table. On April 7, Patterson signed an easement allowing access to the ranch from Big Bend, which many saw as an interim step toward adding the land to the park. When asked whether the draft proposal would have any impact on a potential sale to the National Park Service, GLO spokesman Jim Suydam said, "It would not affect that at all."
Still, Luke Metzger, director of Environment Texas, expressed disappointment with the latest development. "It's great that the homeowners want to come in," he said, but he called their limited resources "a pale substitute" for the NPS management proposal. As for a transfer to Big Bend, he added, "Until we have a new land commissioner, I don't think much is going to change." (Patterson is not up for re-election until 2010.)
But John Waters, publisher of The Big Bend Gazette, thinks the deal may still fail, as the Terlingua property owners group voted Aug. 1 to mothball its only tourist hotel, the Terlingua Lodge. "With the hotel closed, it negates any value of the ranch executing this lease," he said. Waters phlegmatically cast the latest maneuvers as "the mysteries of Jerry Patterson."