Sarah Affeldt’s new year got off to a great start. On Jan. 1, 2022, she officially took the helm as the very first superintendent of Powderhorn State Park on the Texas coast near Port O’Connor.

Powderhorn Ranch was donated to the people of Texas by Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation (TPWF).  TPWF turned over the property to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) in a series of transactions that culminated in October 2021, when the remaining 1,360 acres of the ranch was donated. In 2014, TPWF acquired the ranch, and in 2018, TPWF donated close to 15,000 acres of the property to TPWD for Powderhorn Wildlife Management Area. The property that transferred most recently will one day become a 2,253-acre state park.

Photo by Pam LeBlanc

Affeldt’s education and work experience has prepared her well to step into her new role as Powderhorn State Park Superintendent. Much of her career has spanned the lower Texas coast, including positions working with the US Fish & Wildlife Service, TPWD’s Coastal Fisheries Division, the Friends of Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge and UT-Brownsville. Most recently she worked at Goose Island State Park as a park interpreter, volunteer coordinator, and Acting Assistant Superintendent, and she also served as the Interim Superintendent at Choke Canyon State Park. Originally from Illinois, she holds an undergraduate degree from the University of Arizona and a graduate degree in biology from the University of Texas at Brownsville.

Affeldt knew as soon as she came through the gate at Powderhorn that she wanted to work there. Her first visit to the property happened in 2018 when she got a request to lead a kayaking tour at Powderhorn hosted by TPWF’s young professionals organization Stewards of the Wild.

“I knew from that very first visit that I would work here one day,” said Affeldt. “It was an unmistakable gut feeling, one that I have only experienced two other times in my life. The first time was the first conversation I ever had with the man who is now my husband. The second was when we adopted one of our lab puppies. And the third time was about five minutes after I drove through the gates at Powderhorn. I can’t explain it, but I knew that I would work here one day. It still gives me chills just to think about it.”

Photo by Jonathan Vail

The acquisition of the 17,351-acre Powderhorn Ranch in Calhoun County forever conserves one of the largest remaining tracts of unspoiled coastal prairie in the state.

“That was what struck me that first time, and what I feel every time I come to work, just the vastness of the place,” said Affeldt. “Huge coastal prairies, a mosaic of wetlands, just this beautiful open space with nature and wildlife all around. It’s about as pristine as you can find, and that’s becoming harder to find in Texas.”

Photo by Jonathan Vail

Powderhorn State Park and Wildlife Management Area will forever conserve unspoiled coastal lands with forests of live oak and intact wetlands. The property, which encompasses more than 11 miles of tidal bayfront on Matagorda Bay, also includes thousands of acres of freshwater wetlands and salt marshes that provide vital fish and wildlife habitat. Powderhorn is home to hundreds of species of birds and animals, including the endangered whooping crane.

“It’s really exciting to be here as the first superintendent, and my first priority is to learn everything I can about the property and the intricacies of the habitats,” she said. “It’s my job to know every twist and turn out here and bring insight into the park planning process.”

Photo by Jonathan Vail

The journey from acquiring a piece of property to opening the doors of a new state park is a years-long process. A masterplan will be developed and funding to build the new park needs to be identified.  At this point, there’s not an established timeline to a park opening.

“We know that’s not what people want to hear, but that’s the reality,” said Affeldt.  “The planning process is something that we absolutely want to get right. We want to be wise about how we do things, and we’ll keep longevity, sustainability and accessibility in mind as we move forward.”

In the meantime, Affeldt is eager to explore ways for the public to access the property before it opens its doors as an official state park. She envisions reservation-based guided programs and tours and even volunteer opportunities in the near future. The wildlife management area offers public hunts, and Affeldt envisions partnering with WMA staff to offer some hunting opportunities on the park as well. Affeldt is an avid hunter herself and loves to duck hunt with her husband and two labs.

Photo by Pam LeBlanc

Since the 2014 acquisition, TPWF has stewarded the property to prepare for the donation to the state. Thousands of acres of running live oak have been cleared along with a variety of other restoration and maintenance projects. As Affeldt takes on her new stewardship duties, she’s grateful for all the work that has gone into laying the foundation for a future state park.

“I’m incredibly grateful to Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation, and all the people and organizations that made this acquisition possible,” said Affeldt. “To have this spectacular property protected in perpetuity is an amazing gift that will be appreciated for generations to come.”

Photo by Jonathan Vail