The Hill Country of Texas was a large open grass savanna with spring fed riparian areas transversing the savanna. Europeans began settling here in the 1840s. The primary land use became agricultural, initially crop farming to survive and then the growing of cotton for commercial sale. In the 1930’s a cotton virus resulted in the fields being abandoned. Settlement also brought with it the elimination of naturally occurring wildfires resulting in the abandoned fields of the area being threatened by woody plant encroachment. Crop agriculture gradually shifted to cattle grazing with much of the land becoming overgrazed or transformed with the introduction of “improved” non native grasses. The previously existing landscape suffered from all of these activities. What we see today is far removed from the more open savanna that once existed.
In 1989 Kerrie Richert and his partner Jim Cox purchased the 240-acre Oatmeal Creek property with the idea of restoring some of the fields to native grasslands and protecting the property from overgrazing. Soon we began a systematic removal of juniper and other woody species that had overtaken the open fields. Initially, this work was done by mechanical means. As time went on and the fields opened up a schedule of winter prescribed burning was put into action as a means of controlling woody species encroachment. Every year native grass seed is collected or purchased and sowed in the fields. Cypress trees as well as other native trees have been planted in the riparian area and are thriving. Additionally, grazing livestock were removed and the majority of the property has not been grazed for over 25 years. Through the years several modest residential buildings have been built.
With the explosive growth of the Austin metropolitan area it became evident that residential development was fast becoming a new threat to the land. In 2004 a conservation easement was placed on the property with restrictions limiting future development and use of the property.
Jim and I were grateful to be able to protect the property and shared the landscape with visiting friends and family. Several times the property was used for open-air art classes, Master Naturalist meetings, Land Trust annual meetings and several small non-profit board meetings. As we began to ponder other ways to share the space with others, we investigated artist residencies as a possibility.
In October of 2017 Jim passed away unexpectedly. Since then I have been committed to establishing a residency program for writers and poets. And this is where Oatmeal Creek is today—striving to provide the time, space, and support for writers to contemplate and work on their projects in a relatively isolated, and inspiring environment.