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Updated: 9:12 a.m. Monday, Aug. 13, 2012 | Posted: 10:04 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 9, 2012

Changes afoot at Parrie Haynes Ranch

Plenty of trails for horses, bikes and humans to ramble at ranchland northwest of Florence



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Changes afoot at Parrie Haynes Ranch photo
Pam LeBlanc
Elaine Swiss sponges off her horse Toodles while riding at Parrie Haynes Ranch northwest of Florence. The ranch, with more than 50 miles of trails, is among the last places open to public horseback riders.
Changes afoot at Parrie Haynes Ranch photo
Pam LeBlanc
Swiss takes care of Toodles after a ride. Texas Parks and Wildlife is returning operations of the ranch to the Juvenile Justice Department.

Sometimes the best hiking partners walk on four hooves and swish their tails.

At Parrie Haynes Youth Ranch near Killeen, a 4,525-acre property northwest of Florence, equestrians and their hay-eating companions can ramble miles of trails and even camp overnight.

But changes are afoot at the facility, which was left through a local rancher's will to the State of Texas for the use and benefit of orphan children in 1957.

The Texas Juvenile Justice Department, formerly the Texas Youth Commission, has leased the property to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department since 1993. But the parks agency is terminating that lease effective Sept. 1 and transitioning operational control to the Texas Juvenile Justice System.

Parks officials say they'll save about $280,000 by ending the lease. Record droughts and fires have resulted in declining visitors and income for parks, and the money will be used for other priority operations, said Rodney Franklin, a regional parks director for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

"We've had to make some choices for what we could operate with the funds we had. This is a result of that," Franklin said. "That doesn't mean the public won't have access. We're working with (the Texas Juvenile Justice Department) so we can still provide some access to Parrie Haynes. We just don't know the extent of what it will be."

The property is divided into two parcels — the East Unit, which has been open for public use by hikers, mountain bikers, campers and equestrians, and the West Unit, which has meeting facilities and cabins used for recreational opportunities for at-risk youths and groups that work with children.

I meandered through the East Unit on horseback last month, following trails across creeks and prairies, up and down hills and through groves of oaks and cedars. We stopped periodically at tanks to let our horses drink and back at the parking area we hosed off the animals.

Six sets of double stalls are available for overnight or day use, and RV hookups, bathrooms and solar showers are available for human use.

"It's one of the last places open to public horseback riders and has over 50 miles of trails," said Fred Morse, president of the Friends of Parrie Haynes Ranch, which has worked to preserve the ranch for the youth of Texas. "It's just a unique place."

Jim Hurley, spokesman for the Texas Juvenile Justice Department, said the department's board of directors is still negotiating with other state agencies and organizations about how the property will be operated after Sept. 1. He was unsure whether the public would still have access to the East Unit.

"We're talking to different people about assuming the lease, and it has not yet been decided," Hurley said.

Two volunteer groups — the Texas Equestrian Trail Riders Association and Cove Trail Riders Association — have helped develop and maintain the trails at the property's East Unit.

"There's nothing else in the area like it," said Ona Trubee with Cover Trail Riders, which marked the trails with colored ribbons and helps maintain the campground. The club plans to set up an honor box to collect donations from people who use the facilities in the future. "We need to at least meet the electricity bill, and we have to have money just for maintenance. Right now I'm using my own tractor to scoop out the manure pits."

Contact Pam LeBlanc at 445-3994. Twitter: @fitcityleblanc


If you go

Parrie Haynes Ranch is one hour north of Austin and 13 miles south of Killeen. From Austin, take Interstate 35 north to Highway 195. Turn left and head west for 24 miles. Turn left on FM 2670. Go 3.7 miles and turn right on North Maxdale Road. Go 2.2 miles to the entrance to the Parrie Haynes Ranch East Unit on the left, past the main ranch entrance. For more information, call 254-554-3970.

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