A walk down Memory Lane:a retrospective on the Christmas Mountains

Pssst! Wanna Buy Some Mountains?
From our December 2005 issue
by John Waters, Publisher

The Texas General Land Office (GLO) plans to auction off the 9,269-acre Christmas Mountains tract in South Brewster County. The parcel, deeded to the state in 1991 from the non-profit Conservation Fund, will be offered to the public for a minimum bid of $370,800 or $40 per acre.
The property has numerous restrictions and has depressed the offering price, according to the GLO. Jim Suydam, press secretary at the GLO, said, “We can’t make money off the property so we are ‘moving’ it. We are responsible to make money for the state land fund, and need to sell it.”
Suydam thought the property might be worth $100 or more per acre without the restrictions. Suydam was unsure why the GLO had accepted the property in the first place, due to the constraints. If the property were sold to a private owner, said Suydam, it would benefit Brewster County as the property would be restored to the tax rolls. As is, under state ownership, the tract is exempt from real estate taxes.
A restriction from the original gift deed may doom the sale. When the Conservation Fund deeded the land to the GLO in 1991, it stipulated the GLO would need the Fund’s consent before the land could be transferred to any party other than the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, or the National Park Service. Suydam confirmed that the GLO had contacted the Conservation Fund regarding the sale and had not yet received approval.
Requests for comment from the Conservation Fund were not received by press time. Earlier this year the local Christmas Mountains Association was granted a 5-year conservation lease on the 9,269 acre property. According to the association’s president Terry Ervin, the GLO can break the lease and offer the land for sale. The association is active in its efforts to eradicate salt cedar from the Lake Ament area. If the land fails to sell, Ervin said the group will renew the lease and continue their conservation efforts.

The 9,269 acre Christmas Mountains parcel the General Land Office proposes to auction in February come with numerous restrictions. Here is a partial list:
* No agricultural, commercial or industrial activity. Specifically no farming or grazing.
* No mining. * No off-road vehicle use. No new roads. No widening of existing roads.
* No residential dwelling. No outdoor lighting.
* No telephone, cable TV, electric, gas, water or sewer utilities. No satellite dish.
* No subdividing the property.

Owner of Cibolo Creek Ranch Resort eyes Christmas Mountains
From our June 2006 issue
by John Waters, Publisher

John Poindexter of Houston has told the Gazette he is interested in acquiring the 9,869-acre Christmas Mountains Preserve located in Brewster County and currently owned by the Texas General Land Office (GLO). The property, deeded to the state by the Arlington, Virginia-based Conservation Fund (CF), carries numerous restrictions including the Conservation Fund’s approval of any sale of the property by the GLO.
Poindexter is one of several parties interested in acquiring the property. Last year, Poindexter, a successful Houston-based businessman, made a failed attempt to purchase a 46,000-acre parcel of Big Bend Ranch State Park. Poindexter currently owns the 30,000-acre Cibolo Creek Ranch in Presidio County where he operates the posh Cibolo Creek Ranch Resort.
The GLO had set the tract up for auction on February 7 of this year but pulled the property prior to the auction. Jim Suydam, Press Secretary for the GLO, said, “Commissioner [Jerry] Patterson wanted to make clear, however, that the Land Office no longer wants to hold Christmas Mountains, and is interested in selling the land to someone who will be able to maintain all of the existing conservation easements on the property.  Land Office staff have spoken with several people interested in Christmas Mountains, and Mr. Poindexter is one of those people. Nothing, however, is final.”
Poindexter toured the Christmas Mountains on June 4 and 5 with Andy Jones of the Conservation Fund, David Riskind, a biologist with Texas Parks and Wildlife (TPWD), and three representatives of The Christmas Mountains Association (TCMA). TCMA is a non-profit organization composed of area residents that holds the lease on the Christmas Mountains Preserve and has been working to protect it by improving fences, adding signage, patrolling, and removing invasive plant species.
In a telephone interview with the Gazette, David Riskind made it clear that he was not representing TPWD, as it was his day off, and he went along merely as an opportunity to view a part of the desert he has not seen in 25 years. Commented Riskind, “If you want to look at a piece of Chihuahuan Desert grassland in excellent condition, look there. The grassland community is excellent.”
Poindexter made it clear that he became interested in the Christmas Mountains only after the GLO initially set the property for auction. During a telephone interview with the Gazette Poindexter said, “I called the Conservation Fund and made my interests known. The Conservation easements are far more severe than those of the proposed transfer to the park [Big Bend National Park] that did not go anywhere, so what will happen, who knows? I had a very pleasant tour with the Conservation Fund. At this point it is pretty darn iffy, except I had a very pleasant tour by the Conservation Fund.”
In the TCMA meeting minutes of June 14, the following concerns were raised:
“Basically the issues are that the GLO is considering filing a Quit Claim to turn the property back over to Conservation Fund and this has a tentative deadline of June 22. If GLO does file a Quit Claim, the Conservation Fund does not have the financial reserve to maintain ownership and would need to divest itself of the financial responsibility by selling to a willing buyer. CF would attempt to find a buyer that would be amenable to working with TCMA. ‘Once sold, the only purview the Conservation Fund would have would be over the deed restrictions. If the buyer chose to ignore those restrictions, the CF would have to take them to court to resolve the problem and the CF has limited financial resources for that kind of suit. Obviously, CF is actively trying to solicit buyers that would be interested in favorable land management and that would be amenable to working with TCMA.”
The GLO has stated that the only meeting scheduled for June 22 will be for GLO staff and attorneys to review the Public Information Act request filed by the Gazette.
Regarding the possibility that he might acquire the Christmas Mountains, buy adjacent land, and build a resort, Poindexter said, “No, not at all, I’m a one-resort kind of guy. One resort is a great challenge; the idea of having two is incomprehensible. This is a rest-of-your-life property conservation opportunity.”  Referring to the numerous restrictions, Poindexter added, “All anyone can do is own it and brag about owning it, it gives you Texas bragging rights, there are no commercial purposes.” He added the road access to it is very limited and all traverse Terlingua Ranch.
At the conclusion of the interview Poindexter stressed, “This was a casual visit courtesy of the Conservation Fund, the original donor of the property,” and the fate of the deal is in the hands of the Conservation Fund and the General Land Office.

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