We Will Not Be Tamed ambassador Dan Oko loves to go camping. When he was invited to join the Stewards of the Wild for a camping trip to Powderhorn Ranch recently, he jumped at the chance. Dan’s intrepid daughter Ursula joined him for the trip, and Dan chronicled their Powderhorn Ranch adventure in a recent blog post…

Signs of the Big Freeze still lingered earlier this year when I headed for Powderhorn Ranch. Just a few miles north of the fishing village Port O’Connor, the 17,350-acre ranch first came into the TPWF portfolio in 2014, thanks to a partnership effort that included the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the Nature Conservancy of Texas and The Conservation Fund. It’s a one-of-a-kind property boasting a mix of marshland, forest and a pristine chunk of coastal prairie.  In 2018 more than 15,000 acres became a state wildlife management area. This fall, Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation (TPWF) will gift the remaining acreage to the state, which will eventually become a state park.

That’s still a ways off. So when I received an invite to join the TPWF Stewards of the Wild for a weekend ranch getaway, I signed up. In the low light of my first morning, bait fish splashed along the shoreline, trying to stay ahead of hungry bottlenose dolphins. Soon the porpoises were throwing up wakes like speedboats, a sight to behold. So I stopped casting and just watched nature do its thing. Through the weekend, the fishing was a little slow, but that was just one part of my program.

Camping with me was my daughter Ursula, an avid outdoors girl who will start high school in the fall. I had been to Powderhorn in a journalistic capacity just after final funding had been secured for its purchase in 2014. Returning, I hoped to further explore recreational amenities while providing Ursula the same up-close preview I had enjoyed of this future state park. Plus, as a “We Will Not Be Tamed” ambassador with TPWF, I wanted to meet some of the young professionals that partake in the Stewards of the Wild Program. With luck, the visit would also build a bridge between my generation, theirs and my child’s – spurring a lasting conservation connection.

Lately, Powderhorn Ranch has been the site of TPWF mentored hunts and fishing sessions. In addition to the shoreline and kayak access to redfish-friendly estuaries, the ranch was previously stocked with Asian ungulates, such as sambar and axis deer, and large antelope known as nilgai, a name that translates into “blue cow.” Our weekend was more oriented to camping and socializing, drawing maybe 25 Stewards from Dallas-Ft Worth, Houston and Austin. “Hopefully, they come away from these experiences inspired to embrace a conservation ethic when they are older,” said Matthew Hughes, PhD., who coordinates the Stewards program for TPWF.

Founded in 2013, Stewards of the Wild provides a venue for outdoors-minded young professionals to build relationships with one another and the land. According to Hughes there are currently 10 chapters statewide and nearly 1,000 members. Judging from the sporting clays blasted one afternoon, many are handy with shotguns. Ursula got in on the shooting as well; and after a few practice shots, reliably began hitting clays.

Cruising with Hughes later, we searched high and low for Powderhorn’s whooping cranes, but only counted a few herons in the ponds. We spent a few hours kayaking on Powderhorn Lake, fishing fruitlessly, and eventually Ursula turned her attention to the various crabs, whelk shells and moon snails on the sandbar. We arrived back at the old ranch house sandy toed and suntanned. The other anglers among the Stewards also mostly struck out, which took the sting off my failures.

As we prepared to depart on the final morning, my outlook was further improved knowing TPWF and its partners have done Texans a service landing this property, making sure Powderhorn Ranch will be protected. After all, across hundreds of miles of coastline, there are few intact ranches on this scale, and real-estate trends tend to favor developers, not the public. As summer makes itself known, and stories of snowpocalypse fade, game fish will come back to these shores, and eventually, birders, anglers, and families from all over will make the most of it.

About the Author:

Avid outdoorsman and award-winning freelance writer Dan Oko is a 2021 We Will Not Be Tamed Ambassador for Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation (TPWF). He channels his passion for the outdoors into his work, and his articles have appeared in a wide range of outlets including Texas Monthly, Adventure Journal, Outside, Texas Parks and Wildlife, Texas Highways and Garden & Gun. Dan loves spending time outdoors with his wife and teenage daughter, and they’ve made many memories together camping and hiking in Texas State Parks. Dan also loves fly-fishing, backpacking and mountain biking. Currently, Dan is working on a non-fiction manuscript about climate change and recreation across the Texas Coast due out in 2022. Follow Dan @danoko

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