The Blanco River is only 87 miles long, winding its way from the tiny Central Texas community of Lindendale to the city and river of San Marcos.
Though small by traditional estimates, the Blanco, which was named by Spanish explorers for the white limestone that lines its banks, can also be measured by what it represents. It’s the geological dividing line between east and west Texas. It also runs through one of the fastest-growing regions in the nation, and has become a battleground between public access to Texas waterways and private ownership of land.
“The river below the water is privately owned,” says Wes Ferguson, a Texas-based journalist and author of “The Blanco River”, which was released last month.
The Supreme Court of Texas established that the public still has a right to navigate the river, whether it’s flowing or dry, as long as the section of the river is at least an average of 30 feet wide.
“It is a place for people to come and play but it’s thought of as a more exclusive river – where if you know someone or if you own the land, then you have access to that,” Ferguson says. “If you don’t, then it’s pretty challenging to get to the best and most beautiful places.”
Ferguson details his trips along the river in the book and his attempt to get to these places, like “the Narrows.”
“The Narrows is one of the most beautiful swimming holes in Texas, but it’s pretty small,” he says. “It’s kind of like a cave where the bottom has fallen out of the river and you go through these really narrow channels, with ferns hanging down from all sides and little droplets of water falling into these deep pools, some of which go down 20 feet or more.”
It’s not just the beauty that makes this spot on the river so special, he says. It’s also the fact that it’s so hard to get to and so well protected by the owners of the surrounding land.
“The only way for the public to access it is to walk, swim, or, during times of high flow, paddle the river – about 10 miles each way, downstream and then back up,” he says.
You also have to stay within the river itself to avoid trespassing on the surrounding property.
“It’s a local custom that people should stay out of these somewhat inaccessible areas,” Ferguson says.
Despite making it hard for people to visit places like “the Narrows,” private ownership has helped preserve the Blanco River.
“If there were hoards of people tubing down the river, there would be a lot more trash,” Ferguson says. “Because the Blanco is somewhat inaccessible to the public and because it is under private stewardship, it probably is a little cleaner than it would have been.”
He says the biggest threat to the river is a combination of climate change and increased development in the Blanco River Watershed. Prolonged droughts have caused the river’s flow to drop and the aquifers that fuel the river are now much lower as a result of increased demand for water.
Ferguson submitted the final draft of his book a couple of months before the 2015 Memorial Day floods. That weekend, the Blanco swelled to massive proportions, leaving death and destruction in its wake. Ferguson immediately asked for the manuscript back so he could interview flood survivors.
“Most of the time the Blanco is a relaxing place to be. For a lot of people, it’s part of their backyard,” he says. “But there’s a real harm in forgetting that it’s a wild place and it flouts human dominion and you have to be prepared for what may [come].”
Written by Molly Smith.