By Frances Cerbins
Betty Hendrix is a long time Travis Audubon member and past president of the board. Her tenure shepherded the acquisition of Blair Woods in 1985. Not only that, she named it Blair Woods! Mark Wilson, Dana Kuykendall and I got to have lunch with Betty this week and really learned a lot! At that time Travis Audubon was an all-volunteer organization with no staff, no office, and no endowment. Volunteers did everything. Betty’s extra bedroom was the supplies repository. Dr. Frank Blair included Travis County Audubon Society in his will to inherit his estate including his home and its contents except guns and books. Frank Blair and his wife Fern had lived in on the property, an old dairy farm in eastern Travis County, for 25-30 years and he for two years as a widower. The bequest was a surprise to Betty though board member Ed Kutac, Blair’s friend, probably knew of this potential inheritance.
The first order of business was to get the courts to agree that “Travis County Audubon Society” was indeed legally “Travis Audubon Society” Kutac was instrumental. Betty, a biology teacher, recalls driving downtown from Crockett High School after the school day to sign the legal papers. In short order, Travis Audubon owned property besides the small part of what is now Baker Sanctuary and had funds for an endowment. This was certainly a turning point for the organization.
Betty told us about the immediate tasks at Blair Woods. First it got its name from Betty; then they needed to start the labor of clean-up. Some of the projects included:
- The barn clean-up: It seems there had been no city trash pickup through the years when the Blair’s lived there. A lot of trash had accumulated and had to be put in a dumpster hauled off. .
- Raccoons: Dr. Blair had had a dog that he fed outside; the food was a big draw for raccoons which multiplied into a pack. The raccoons were caught and taken to Animal Rescue.
- House contents: The house needed to be emptied. Dr. Blair’s books were collected to go to the Chihuahuan Desert Museum of which Dr. Blair was a founding board member. His guns were also gathered for his brother. Upon gathering the books, they found family silver hidden behind the books. They had an estate sale for all the remaining contents. Some items were purchased by members including Betty.
- Property cleanup: The property was very over-run and access was very difficult. The pond was there but no trails around the property. A Boy Scout Troop laid out some trails and volunteers did a lot of invasive removal. One invasive seemed to be planted way at the back of the property; volunteers found a patch of marijuana that got cleared. Blair had built the pond which was fed by the spring and he built a dam which he called the “Dam of Words” because the dam was structured from student papers; it is still there.
- Usage: How was the organization going to use Blair Woods? From the beginning neighborhood school groups came out to the property for nature studies. There are pictures of Travis Audubon events that were held there. There were some classes held in the house but the house was not a good location for public activities because of the poor access for emergency vehicles.
With the current interest in Blair Woods as an inner city nature sanctuary, we are grateful for the Blairs and for Betty and the Board Travis Audubon for taking on this challenge.