Chuck Snakard and his wife Dorothy have a lot of work on their hands. In 1994 they bought their property, Chalk Mountain Preserve, because of the spectacular views from the upland ridge called Chalk Mountain. Since then, the Snakards have built a house that fits the landscape, with Texas limestone and a metal roof, and they have installed a rainwater cistern. Initially, the Snakards faced some of the typical problems many landowners have experienced like overgrazing, oak wilt, and invasive weeds. These challenges didn’t faze them. Chuck said, “I wanted a place I could work on.”
I spoke with Chuck and Dorothy about their hopes and dreams for the ranch, and Chuck’s connection with this place. We talked about their journey to restore the health of the ranch and the small steps they are taking every day to make big changes in the long term.
TLC: Chuck, tell us about your experiences growing up – how did they shape your land stewardship ethic?
Chuck: We lived in the heart of Fort Worth when I was really young and then moved out to the far west side where cattle grazed out our back door. That changed quickly however, the area developed overnight. I always felt that something was lost when houses replaced open pastures. I always had a desire to have a piece of property to get away.
TLC: How did you decide you wanted to buy Chalk Mountain Ranch?
Chuck: When we first saw this property we were not impressed. It had been grazed down to the dirt. There were some juniper and dirt, but generally it was just a mess. We left the property, not intent on buying it, but I kept thinking about the view and the canyon. I realized I kinda liked that piece of property.
Dorothy: I said, if that’s what you want, you should get it. I couldn’t see the vision for it like he did, but he has done wonders with the land. The property is unrecognizable from when we first saw it.
TLC: How did you start to rehabilitate the land?
Chuck: The first thing we did was get the cattle off the property. An NRCS agent visited the property and made many helpful suggestions. I’ve never been a patient man, but its true,
nature doesn’t move as fast as you might want it to. We have owned this property for 22 years and I finally feel like we are making progress.
TLC: In your estimation, what does a healthy ranch look like? What progress are you most proud of?
Chuck: Now there are a lot of native bunch grasses. They are 2-3 feet tall. Before we started this there were no tall grasses, they had been grazed to the ground. Now we have more of it and less woody vegetation. We used to have a lot of juniper, anywhere from 6 inches to 4 feet tall. Now we have expanses that are nothing but grasses and forbes. I worked with the Texas Forest Service and planted trees, creating a wildlife corridor so that animals can move from the front to the back of the property. We are now growing acorns in pots. They are one year old now. If you’re planting trees at my age you’re very optimistic about the future. This is a special property – it is a piece of the Texas landscape that feels native and wild, where I can go and get away from the city. It is meditative to go out there. Nature is bigger than us – it restores our sense of equilibrium.
TLC: What are your biggest challenges managing this property?
Chuck: My fear is that if people are left to their own devices they will just pave over the entire state. I just wanted to try to not have that happen to a piece of property that I worked hard on and have it be there for many generations. The things that give me heartburn are the invasive species. I can live with the amount of juniper, but the KR and the Johnson grass are getting out of hand. There are parts of it I don’t get to for weeks or months. I’d like to have more land, but frankly its about all I can handle.