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Refugio County harbors a gateway to nature (video)

By JR Ortega
Aug. 24, 2013 at 3:24 a.m.
Updated Aug. 26, 2013 at 3:26 a.m.

The 4,000-acre Fennessy Ranch in Refugio County, located near the Mission River, offers many opportunities for hunting, birding and wildlife photography.

BAYSIDE - The road is bumpy and winding, but all that is very exciting - and that's the way Sally Crofutt likes it.

The dirt roads at the Fennessey Ranch about 10

miles outside Bayside are like a second home to Crofutt, the ranch's general manager.

The ranch is 4,000 acres of wetlands, meadows, riparian wood, natural lakes and brush land that is hugged by the Mission River. Crofutt has called it home for 21 years.

"Look at that there - a crested caracara - just lovely," she said, pointing out her windshield toward a brazen, blue sky.

These days, Crofutt is happy to report the ranch has started more educational programs, thanks to its seven-year involvement in Mission-Aransas National Estuarine Research Reserve and two grants.

A $40,000 grant from the Coastal Impact Assistance Program went to continuing to fund its Monarch Day in October. The ranch is also purchasing some water quality testing tools and 10 kayaks.

Monarch Day is the ranch's largest educational program, in which more than 200 kids show up to catch and tag butterflies in the name of better species identification, she said.

A $13,000 grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, Coastal Bend Bays and Estuaries Program and Ducks Unlimited helped rebuild some of the wetlands that have deteriorated. The organizations paid 70 percent, and the ranch paid 30 percent, she said.

"It would have been impossible to get that kind of equipment for kids," she said.

The ranch is not just for kids, though. People of all ages from all different areas of the world make their way toward the large iron gate at Farm-to-Market Road 2678 - a gateway to a land of hunting, birding and solitude in nature.

The ranch also has the Fennessey Sharp Shooters Photo Club, which is gaining popularity. Photographers gain unlimited access to the ranch for personal or nature contest photography. Their photos have been used to build signs for species identification on the ranch.

For better photography and wildlife interactivity, the ranch did several large controlled burns - one of which was 800 acres.

Crofutt said the membership has grown but not by too much. Many people who visit are from places other than Refugio County, which she feels is unfortunate because it's in their own backyard.

"When people think of habitats, they think they can just have a ranch, and it will take care of itself. But it doesn't," she said.



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