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AUSTIN EDITION City council approves nature center's land purchase plan

Inside

City council notebook -- Page 3A

By Tim Ruzek

truzek@postbulletin.com

When you're more than 30 years old, you typically don't hit a growth spurt.

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Jay C. Hormel Nature Center, however, which opened in 1971, has kept growing in recent years. It has nearly doubled, with two significant acquisitions expanding the center from 279 acres to 489 acres.

With Austin City Council's approval Monday, the center, located in northeast Austin, will be more than 500 acres with the purchase of 11 acres on the center's northern boundary.

The Friends of the Jay C. Hormel Nature Center, a nonprofit group that supports the center, plans to acquire the 11-acre property owned by Tom and Susan Hemann, who worked out an agreement with the group. The parcel, which has a 1⁄4; -mile-long driveway, is nearly surrounded by 148 acres of farm land the group acquired in January 2004.

The property's soil is good for planting trees, according to Larry Dolphin, the center's director.

Under the agreement, the property owners will continue to live there for a few years and then turn the land over to the nature center, said John Beckel, a member of the group. The buildings there will be removed.

Another 10-acre parcel just east of the property is being sought by the group for possible acquisition. That land and a third parcel also are within the 148 acres.

Plans for the 148-acre acquisition involve turning the farm land into woodlands, prairie and oak savanna likely not until 2010.

A nearby 62-acre parcel acquired by the group in 2003 was planted this fall with seeds from more than 105 native species of wildflowers and grasses to turn the former farm land into prairie and oak savanna.

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The group started fundraising for the land-acquisition project in 2000, collecting about $20,000 in the first year for the $750,000 goal, Beckel said. Now more than $800,000 has been raised for the project, he said.

"We've come a long way," Beckel said.

Mayor Bonnie Rietz called the project a nice effort that's adding wonderfully to the area.

"It's so nice to see the pieces falling into place," she said.

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