Daniel Kozmetsky wades through a sea of lemon-yellow wildflowers growing along a ridge and looks over a wide valley that stretches in front of him, part of the sprawling RGK Ranch his grandparents founded half a century ago. “This is the spot,” he says, sweeping out his arm as though introducing a star on a stage. “This is where developers stood and said, ‘We could put a lot of houses on that hill over there.’ ”

Instead of a sea of rooftops, though, this former cattle ranch between Hamilton Pool Road and Highway 71 in western Travis County, about thirty minutes west of downtown Austin, will become a park where hikers can take in Hill Country vistas and explore a tributary of Bee Creek that spills over a series of limestone ledges. Travis County officials are using funds from the Proposition B Parks Bond Measure, which voters passed last November, to purchase the 1,507-acre parcel where a subdivision was once planned.

The acquisition adds to a cluster of public parks located in a spot that includes Hamilton Pool Preserve, a stunning hiking area and swimming hole (when conditions allow), and Milton Reimers Ranch Park, whose riverside trails are beloved by mountain bikers and climbers. Officials hope to eventually connect Reimers and RGK Ranch via a trail network.

The acquisition of RGK Ranch, which is expected to open to the public sometime in 2025 or 2026, is a win for conservationists in Texas, where 96 percent of land is privately owned (the third-lowest share among U.S. states) and the overstretched state parks system is struggling to accommodate the state’s fast-growing population. The latest deal follows other recent successful efforts to preserve land in the ecologically fragile Hill Country, including the creation of Pecan Springs Karst Preserve, in Williamson County, and the expansion of Honey Creek State Natural Area, in Comal County.

George and Ronya Kozmetsky bought the first part of their ranch in the early 1970s. Over the years, the family added more land to the property until it reached nearly 1,600 acres. George and Ronya’s descendants are now selling all but about 90 acres of that land to Travis County for $90 million, nearly $30 million less than its appraised value and far below the $130 million that developers had offered. The family will retain the remaining land, which includes a house and small lake.

This house at RGK Ranch will become part of the park.Erich Schlegel

George Kozmetsky, who died in 2003, was an entrepreneur who made a fortune with Teledyne, a company he cofounded before moving to Austin and becoming a major player in the city’s nascent tech scene. He and his wife, Ronya, gave millions to charitable causes through their RGK Foundation. Family members credit Nadya Scott, the Kozmetskys’ daughter, for her vision of turning the family land into a public park. “It very much was her desire, because she has been blessed by a lot of what Austin has done [for our family],” says her son, Jordan Scott, who grew up in California but now lives in Austin.

As a boy, Jordan Scott spent about six weeks every summer in Texas and loved roaming the ranch. He floated its creeks on an inner tube, chased snakes and deer through pastures, hiked to freshwater springs, and searched for arrowheads, fossils, and other treasures (one memorable find: a snapping turtle shell as big as a cowboy hat). Now, he says, he’s happy that other kids will have a chance to explore the same spots.

Scott says that when he lived in California, his family loved to picnic and hike at Will Rogers State Historic Park, in Los Angeles, on land that once belonged to the Western movie star’s ranch. “Those experiences truly planted a seed for [my mother] to see she could create a similar experience for people in Austin,” he says.

The park’s opening remains at least a year away, according to Charles Bergh, with Travis County Parks. The county will need to create a master plan for the land, as well as designing and building some basic amenities. A home on the ranch will be turned into an events center, available for rental. The Scott family will retain a 90-acre inholding on the property that includes another home and a small lake. Travis County will have right of first refusal to buy that land if the family decides to sell in the future.

Bluebonnets and other wildflowers line acres of the ranch. Erich Schlegel
Hikers will be able to explore a tributary of Bee Creek that spills over a series of limestone ledges. Erich Schlegel

“We’re not intending to put a lot of development on the property,” Bergh says. “This park is going to be developed similar to Reimers Ranch Park—kind of a wilderness park with trails, parking, and a bathroom or two.”

The transaction continues a two-decade collaboration between area landowners, Travis County, and the Nature Conservancy to preserve land in the fast-growing area surrounding Hamilton Pool. “The property was permitted for 1,400 houses and 150 acres of commercial development, including apartments and shopping centers,” says Jeff Francell, associate director of land protection for the Nature Conservancy in Texas, which facilitated the transaction. “Instead of rooftops, they’re turning that property, which is incredibly close to Reimers Ranch, into a park everyone can use.”

The ranch is one of the last large remaining undeveloped tracts of land in the area and protects significant wildlife habitat and watersheds feeding Bee Creek and Lake Travis. Historically a cattle ranch, RGK Ranch transitioned to conservation and forestry management practices during the last twenty years. Foxes, ringtail cats, and bobcats all have been spotted among its rolling hills and canyons, as well as the endangered golden-cheeked warbler. The undeveloped land helps protect water quality because it acts as a natural filter, absorbing rainwater, replenishing aquifers, and feeding runoff into nearby Lake Travis.

The land includes watersheds that feed into Bee Creek and Lake Travis. Erich Schlegel

“In every direction except Reimers, it’s houses,” Francell says. “This is a big piece of land. You feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere, but you have these massive subdivisions all around you.” Last month, Travis County purchased an additional 475 acres to expand Reimers Ranch Park, located a half-mile from RGK Ranch. Officials say they hope to one day connect the two parks via a hiking trail.

The acquisition brings the amount of parkland in the area to 5,430 acres, Bergh says. In addition, the Nature Conservancy has worked with Travis County to negotiate an additional 3,184 acres of conservation easements, meaning that roughly 8,600 acres across Travis County are now protected from development.

“It’s protecting a part of the county that’s under intense development and setting aside land for future generations,” Bergh says. “These two tracts [RGK Ranch and the new section of Milton Reimers Ranch Park] were platted for 2,400 homes, and now it’s going to be set aside for the public to go outdoors and spend time hiking.”

The acquisition of Hamilton Pool in the eighties marked the first step toward setting aside parkland in the area. Milton Reimers Park was added in 2005. “The Nature Conservancy has worked with the county ever since to add land and conservation easements around the park to preserve water quality, wildlife habitat, and just the rural character of the western end of Hamilton Pool,” Francell says. “While this part of the county has developed, the county has built out a significant amount of parkland, most of which is connected.”

Travis County commissioner Ann Howard describes the area as the gateway to the Hill Country, and says she believes the county has a duty to protect it. “With the growth and congestion and lack of water, the fact that we can remove some of this land from development is exciting,” Howard says. “We’re preserving land, protecting water sources, and decreasing the demand for water. . . . We’re adding public land, and that’s rare in Texas.”