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2021 Leadership Summit: A Hill Country Conservation Reunion

The 2021 Leadership Summit was held online and in-person in an open-air setting on September 30 from 8 AM – 4 PM at The Hall at Jester King Brewery, followed by a networking happy hour from 4-6 PM. Thank you to the more than 200 folks who attended, joining us in-person and online at the Leadership Summit! We are beyond blessed to have such an incredible group of folks in the conservation community, and the opportunity to gather together and reconnect was truly lovely.

Resources from the Event

Sky Lewey (Nueces River Authority), Karen Ford (Water PR), Annalisa Peace (Greater Edwards Aquifer Alliance), and Christy Muse – Heart of the Hill Country award recipients (Photos © Eric W. Pohl)

The Heart of The Hill Country Award was created by HCA in 2019 to recognize and thank our region’s greatest natural resource champions. Previous recipients of the award, Christy Muse and Sky Lewey, presented the 2021 awards. The 2021 honorees are Annalisa Peace and Karen Ford – two individuals who have spent decades championing and stewarding the natural resources of our region.

Karen and Annalisa were each presented with a beautiful award, designed and crafted by Hill Country artist J.J. Priour using Cordova limestone and glass. Much like the limestone used in his art, Priour has deep ties to the Hill Country and his late father Damian was instrumental to the formation of the Hill Country Alliance.


Presentations from the 2021 Summit

Click to view the full agenda for the 2021 Leadership Summit

Meet our Speakers

Photos from the event

Click to view album of photos from 2021 Hill Country Leadership Summit.

Morning Photos courtesy of Plumeria Alexander

Afternoon Photos Courtesy of Eric W. Pohl

Keynote – Building Community Resilience

The State of the Hill Country

Leading the Rural Hill Country

One Water in the Hill Country

Texas Land Trends

Full Playlist

2021 Leadership Summit Sponsors

2020 Leadership Summit: The Future of Conservation in the Texas Hill Country

A monumental thank you to all who made our first foray into hosting a virtual Summit a success! More than 180 folks logged on for our three-day summit to share, learn, network, strategize, and be inspired by the possibilities for the conservation of our Texas Hill Country. While historically a one-day event, this year’s online format allowed the Summit to spread out over the course of three days – Wednesday, Sep. 23 from 2-4 PM, Thursday, Sep. 24 from 10-12 PM, and Friday, Sep. 25 from 10-12 PM. This new format allowed an expanded opportunity to tune-in to inspiring and informative talks from local and national environmental resource experts without having to sit on your computer all day!

To view presentations from the 2020 Leadership Summit, click below:

Regenerative Grazing

The Water Funder Initiative

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Conservation in the Hill Country

The Growth of the Aggregate Industry

New Strategies for Regional Development

Local and Regional Leadership

Preserving the Natural Night Sky

Hill Country Sewage Scorecard

Astrotourism in the Texas Hill Country

Cultivating a Hill Country for All

2020 Leadership Summit Sponsors

2019 Leadership Summit: Conservation in the Heart of Texas

A tremendous thank you to all who joined us on September 26, 2019 at Camp Lucy in Dripping Springs, TX for our annual Hill Country Alliance Leadership Summit. More than 180 folks came out for our day-long summit and your engagement, questions, and overall drive to lead the charge in Hill Country conservation inspire us!

To download presentations from this year’s summit, click below:

2019 Leadership Summit Photos

2019 Leadership Summit Sponsors

2018 Leadership Summit: Legacy and Collaboration – Our Collective Stewardship of the Texas Hill Country

Thank you to all who joined us on September 27, 2018 at Camp Lucy in Dripping Springs, TX for our annual Hill Country Alliance Leadership Summit! More than 160 folks came out for our day-long summit to share, learn, network, strategize, and be inspired by the possibilities for the conservation of our Texas Hill Country.

  • Land Use and our Rural Counties – Will Conley, Chair, Capital Area Metro Planning Organization
  • One Water and Hill Country Water Supplies – Sarah Richards, Water Program Officer, Cynthia & George Mitchell Foundation, Ian Taylor, CEO, New Braunfels Utility, & Lee Butler, Building Services Manager, Austin Central Library
  • Texas Water Policy: Culture, Myths, and the Future of Water in the Hill CountrySeamus McGraw, Author, A Thirsty Land, Charlie Flatten (moderator), Water Program Manager, Hill Country Alliance, Milan Michalec, Board President, Cow Creek Groundwater Conservation District & Vanessa Puig-Williams, Executive Director, Trinity Edwards Springs Protection Association
  • Handing on the Reins: Private Landownership through the Generations – Francine Romero, Associate Dean College of Public Policy, University of Texas San Antonio, Ryland and Isabell Howard, Landowners, Head of the River Ranch & Jeff and Julie Lewey, Landowners, Open V Ranch
  • Edge of the Night: From the Global to the LocalBettymaya Foott, Engagement Director, International Dark Sky Association & Shannon du Plessis, Chair, Wimberley Valley Dark Sky Committee
  • Collaboration and the Texas Hill Country Conservation Network – Katherine Romans, Executive Director, Hill Country Alliance

2017 Leadership Summit: From Local to Regional – The Shared Story of the Texas Hill Country

Thank you to all who joined us for the 2017 Hill Country Alliance Leadership Summit, September 21, 2017! See below for a recap of the event, photos, and links to the speaker presentations.

2017 Hill Country Alliance Leadership Summit Draws Crowd with Message of Inclusion and Storytelling

On September 21st, conservation leaders from across the Texas Hill Country met at Camp Lucy in Dripping Springs for the Hill Country Alliance’s Annual Leadership Summit. The event theme, From Local to Regional: The Shared Story of the Texas Hill Country, brought together more than 190 participants to learn about conservation strategies such as collaboration and story-telling to solve complex natural resource problems.

Jim Blackburn, president of the Trinity Edwards Springs Protection Association (TESPA), kicked off the summit by highlighting the legal and cultural challenges facing water conservation in the region. “If the springs don’t flow, our public property—the surface water—is taken from us.” Blackburn noted that Texas law does not acknowledge the connection between surface and groundwater; the law, he emphasized, needs to be changed. Such changes will require the Hill Country conservation community to be increasingly more creative.

Next, Francine Romero, professor at University of Texas-San Antonio and HCA board member, moderated a panel discussion focused on the linkage between land and water protection. Panelists—including Brigid Shea, Travis County Commissioner; Blair Fitzsimons, CEO of Texas Agricultural Land Trust; Susan Courage, with the City of San Antonio’s Edwards Aquifer Protection Program; and Todd Figg, Uvalde County landowner—discussed their challenges and success stories.

“We are faced with a crisis of land ownership,” noted Fitzsimons. Keeping families on the land to continue generations of stewardship helps protect land and water resources. As Figg, a landowner, attested properties are being sold and subdivided across the Hill Country. Successful models of land and water conservation can be found across our region, and pooling a greater variety of public and private funds can make conservation affordable for the people that work the land.

The keynote speaker of the day was Dr. Betty Sue Flowers, professor emeritus from the University of Texas at Austin and former director of the LBJ Presidential Library. Dr. Flowers’ presentation focused on the importance of storytelling in building shared understanding around complicated problems. As Flowers pointed out, the future is only a story—it can be changed and shaped in dramatic ways, and ultimately our understanding of the present is influenced by the story we are telling about the future.

Flowers urged attendees to bring non-traditional partners together to create a shared vision of the future. “It’s the space between science and passion where we are at our best,” commented Flowers, who then asked, “How do we tell stories together that incorporate diversity? How do we go forward together respecting everyone’s individual story while creating a wider, deeper, shared one together?” To do so, we must draw from one another’s stories and create shared power in the process.

The afternoon was capped by stories of successes from around Central and West Texas. Bill Wren, from the McDonald Observatory, underscored the importance of deep running stories about the night skies of Texas in educating everyone from tourists to oil refinery workers about light pollution. Wren noted, “We have a sense of pride to appeal to for protecting the night skies around the observatory.”

Shifting from the night skies to land stewardship, Cathy Downs from Monarch Watch shared a story of numerous partners—landowners, businesses, and government agencies at the local, state, and federal level—working together to save Monarch Butterflies. “The Hill Country is in a unique position, at the confluence of the migratory pathways, both north and south.” By adding milkweed and nectar plants to the Hill Country, we are creating an enhanced food web that supports over 4 million monarchs.

Garry Merritt, Real County Judge and Hill Country Alliance board president, discussed the process for creating a comprehensive plan for Real County. When beginning such an ambitious process, Merritt noted, “You can’t get there from here. You have to first develop respect and trust; only then can you begin to develop a shared vision and path for how to get there.”

Author Wes Ferguson brought it all home as he shared stories and images from his new book about the Blanco River. “Texas rivers are always changing,” Ferguson observed. This change goes far beyond the flow in the channel to include the inhabitants that live along and shape the health of our river basins. As Flowers noted, our challenge and opportunity is to create a shared story that is wider, deeper, and creates more power in our discussions of stewardship.

The day concluded with breakout conversations and shared inspirational success stories that illuminated opportunities for collaboration between groups and individuals. “The biggest takeaway is the immense opportunity represented by a room full of passionate individuals, like what we have seen today,” commented Katherine Romans, executive director of the Hill Country Alliance. “We can be successful by bringing diverse perspectives together to find a common vision for the Hill Country.”

To learn more about the Leadership Summit, visit the HCA webpage at and please stay engaged with news, events and developments by subscribing to the Hill Country Alliance newsletter.

2017 Leadership Summit Presentations

2017 Leadership Summit Photos

2016 Leadership Summit

Download Presentations from the 2016 Leadership Summit