What’s Happening at Blair Woods?

Blair Woods, one of Travis Audubon’s Sanctuaries, is a true diamond in the rough. The ten-acre property on East MLK was gifted to the Society in 1985 by Dr. Frank and Fern Blair. Dr. Blair was a preeminent zoologist at UT, known for his studies of reptiles and amphibians, with much of his field work taking place on the property. We believe Fern was the birder and history buff in the family, and likely the inspiration for their gift.

As East Austin has grown over the past decades, it became clear to TAS that Blair Woods was well situated to be the center of our education programming. Over the last two years, Travis Audubon and its Board have worked through a master planning process for Blair Woods that will help us best steward the property and focus our efforts there even more towards outreach and education. At the outset, Board members made three important decisions: (1) Travis Audubon was committed to retaining Blair Woods and honoring the legacy of Frank and Fern Blair’s gift (2) the vast majority of the property (nine acres) would be maintained as a bird and nature sanctuary, guided by the Habitat Plan developed in 2013 (3) we would explore the possibility of building a new Travis Audubon office and learning center on the remaining acre. Along the way, supporting our Blair Woods neighbors and preserving the unique history of the property have been additional guiding principles.

The work of habitat management has been underway for many years, guided by the Blair Woods Core Team. For well over a decade, dedicated volunteers have worked hard to restore the land at Blair. Removal of invasives, native planting and seeding, building of a Chimney Swift tower, trails, and a pollinator garden – the nine acres that make up the sanctuary are being healed and a wonderful urban oasis is emerging.

The new “Blair Build” master planning process is focused on the one-acre area containing the Blair House and several historical outbuildings close to the home. During its 2019 annual retreat, the Board decided to begin the formal planning process and adopted the following goals: a new-construction office building that can accommodate future growth of TAS, an adjacent learning center and classroom space for adult and youth learners, adequate parking, and a reimagining of the Blair House to honor the legacy of their gift. Funds were approved at a subsquent business meeting to contract with architects Clayton & Little (now Clayton Korte) to consult on the planning process. A Blair Build subcommittee was appointed. Members include Executive Director Nicole Netherton, Past President Frances Cerbins and Board members Karen Bartoletti, Julia Marsden, and Mark Wilson.

Up front communications with City of Austin Development Services were seen as key, as the property requires some zoning modifications to allow for the educational and office building. After multiple meetings among principals, the Sunland Engineering group completed an initial Site Development Plan including Environmental Resources Inventory. This work has been folded into a overarching Master Plan by Clayton Korte, led by Nathan Quiring, AIA/Partner. The Master Plan has been reviewed by the Board and will be rolled out in January 2021. After that, the hard work of a capital campaign and zoning changes with the City of Austin can commence.

We will be sharing more about the master plan and its goals throughout 2021, including more about the history we’ve discovered about the Blairs and their property, about the habitat restoration efforts, and about the neighbors and communities around the property and our partnerships together. What a gift Blair Woods was and is to our organization, and how exciting it is to watch this diamond’s sparkle emerge!