The forward-thinking Cibolo Nature Center (CNC) in Boerne, Texas, is looking to the past in fostering a diverse community focused on sustainability. For over a quarter of a century, CNC has been central to the conservation movement in the Hill Country outside San Antonio. From the beginning, its goal has been to protect the Cibolo Creek watershed, but this goal has expanded into what founder and Executive Director Carolyn Chipman Evans describes as a more overarching goal of “demonstrating how to live lightly and respectfully in the Hill Country.” Whether it’s watershed protection, native plant introduction, gardening education or water conservation, CNC is taking the lead in bringing a broad group of community members together in support of these efforts. Recently, the organization has developed a friendship with members of the Lipan Apache Band of Texas, built on a shared history with the land and on a desire to preserve both that history and the land itself.
CNC often works in conjunction with the Cibolo Conservancy, a separate, sister organization run by Chipman Evans’ husband, Brent Evans, which helps protect lands not contiguous to the Nature Center. Together they’ve shown that a small group of passionate folks can turn vision into reality, transforming a littered, 100-acre piece of land and a creek where people had previously dumped oil into a haven that attracts a wide variety of individuals who are sometimes exploring nature for the first time. The land surrounding CNC has a particularly rich history, encompassing multiple generations of European settlers and Native Americans. Now, after many years with little communication among the different generations, new friendships are being forged based on mutual respect and a shared mission.
The Historic Herff Farm
On land directly across from the Nature Center on the other side of the creek sits the Herff Farm. Dating back to 1854, the farm now comprises 60 acres. But its farmhouse is the homestead of what was once a 10,000-acre ranch established by Ferdinand von Herff, a pioneering doctor. Chipman Evans, a sixth-generation descendant of Herff, not long ago completed a 10-year grassroots effort to purchase the property with the goal of transforming it into a community hub and sustainable living education and research center. That goal is steadily coming to fruition. “The Herff Farm is an expansion of our programs at the Nature Center,” says Chipman Evans. “It allows us to reach greater segments of the population by focusing not only on wild nature, but on bringing nature into your own backyard.”
Dr. Herff’s legacy is living on in multiple ways. As Brent Evans describes it, Herff’s reputation as a healer was widely known in the region. Comanche and Apache healers shared medical secrets with him, and he treated many Native Americans, regardless of their ability to pay. One particular surgery he performed turned out to have far-reaching effects. As the story goes, Herff performed risky cataract surgery on a grateful Lipan Apache Chief who was going blind. Years later in 1888, after Herff had moved away and the tribe had been driven from their lands by European settlers, conflict between the settlers and the tribal community continued. In the midst of this turbulent period, Herff visited the farm with his children and grandchildren.
They awoke the next morning to find an arrow shot through a white feather into their gate post, the Lipan Apache sign for peace. While surrounding places were being attacked, the farm was not, thanks to Herff’s act of kindness toward the chief years before. “Even when a genocide of the Native Americans was taking place in Texas,” Evans says, “people found a way to work together to find peace. This is an example of how communities can come together even under extreme circumstances.”
Blessing the Land
More than 100 years later, two Lipan Apache descendants began volunteering at the Herff Farm. This connection became the catalyst for a renewed friendship between the Herff and Lipan Apache ancestors. Recently, CNC held its first blessing ceremony on the Herff Farm, drawing descendants from both the Herff family and the Lipan Apaches.
“The elders came out to bless the land and it was a beautiful, friendship-making event,” Evans says. “About 100 people were invited to attend and the community really appreciated it. It was a community bonding experience.” Six tipis were erected, followed by drumming, dancing and prayers. The Lipan Apache ancestors presented Chipman Evans with a handcrafted arrow with a white feather representing the continuation of their friendship.
CNC is planning to host more such events, Evans says, and hopes that members of additional tribes will come next time. “Prior to this we didn’t know any of their descendants,” he says. “Now we’ve made friends, and now we have the other point of view.”
Herff Farm Visitor Center
The farmhouse has recently undergone a seven-year restoration process and will soon be home to the Herff Farm Visitor Center. Here, people will gather to learn how to live lightly on the land through programming focused on sustainable living, land conservation and healthy lifestyles. Until this new center is complete, however, a thriving farmers market has been the hub of activity on the farm. Every Saturday morning from March through December for the past three years, people from throughout the region have come out to support their local farmers and food producers and to visit the “inspiration garden” to learn about new vegetables and techniques for their own gardens.
While the farmers market takes place, staff and volunteers from CNC hold educational workshops and presentations on such topics as beekeeping, composting and rainwater catchment, all reflective of the organization’s mission of learning from the past to teach for the future. A junior gardening program and a variety of other children’s programs are offered weekly as well, and four times a year seasonal festivals spotlight a particular aspect of sustainability. CNC’s director of development, Cheyenne Johnson, describes it this way: “We’re building a community that cares about the community. We’re creating a safe place where opportunities to work together can develop among people who are like-minded and passionate about conservation and sustainability. That’s how it’s going to get done from the inside out.”