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Exploring Texas' Last Frontier
Thursday, November 07, 2019 to Sunday, November 10, 2019
Category: Events

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Exploring Texas' Last Frontier
Nov. 7–10 • Lajitas Resort, Big Bend, TX

Meeting Recap

More than 170 directors, alumni, speakers and guests ventured to the far southwest corner of the state for this final meeting of 2019. The Big Bend region, with its looming mountains, vast open spaces, and meandering river, reminded us of our rugged, wild and independent selves. As business, political and community leaders, we connected with leaders, regional experts, and policymakers to facilitate a robust conversation about our natural heritage and the forces of conservation and progress on Texas’ last frontier and beyond.

A hearty thanks must first go to our president, Sanjay Ramabhadran, for picking this important topic, and to our amazing planning team for ensuring every detail fell into place.

We kicked off on Thursday night by braving impending thunderstorms at the Lajitas Resort amphitheater. Mayor Clay Henry III, the beer-drinking goat and mayor of Lajitas welcomed us and, as publicly-elected goats are wont to do, ate the very paper on which the evening run of show was printed. Laura Jennings, Big Bend Ranch State Park interpreter gave us a brief 10,000 year history of the region before we watched the feature-length documentary, The River and the Wall, about 5 adventurers' 1,200-mile journey along the Rio Grande River. Bill Wren capped the evening off with a talk about the McDonald Observatory and regional efforts to protect and expand one of the largest areas under dark-skies protection in the United States.

 U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, R-Helotes of Texas’ 23rd Congressional District welcomed us after brief remarks by Sanjay. Hurd’s district has 820 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border and eight national parks and historic sites. Hurd provided background on the district and discussed efforts to enact legislation to support improvements to aging infrastructure in our national parks.

 Zach Brady, Texas Lyceum Class of 2015, moderated a panel with Dr. Louis Harveson of Borderlands Research Institute, Tim Roberts of Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, and Bonnie McKinnie of El Carmen Land and Conservation Company on the rich cultural and biological resources of the Chihuahuan Desert.

Natalie Koehler, Texas Lyceum Class of 2014, covered topics as far-ranging as music festivals, the sheep and goat industry to efforts to prevent what some call efforts to “Marfa my Terlingua” and the true price of a cowboy’s hat. Joining Natalie for this panel were Bobby McKnight of McKnight Ranches Co., Greg Henington of Far Flung Outdoor Center, and Stewart Ramser of Viva Big Bend. 

The Big Bend region is one of the most remote and least populated segments of Texas’ border with Mexico. For centuries, the region’s inhabitants have viewed the river as both a common resource and a ribbon of bi-national cultural and commercial exchange. Since the 1990s, the U.S. has focused more federal customs and border protection resources in the area and in 2019 the region has seen a rise in the number of undocumented crossings. Kevin Robnett, Texas Lyceum Class of 2018, moderated a lively discussion about the challenges of patrolling an immense area with limited resources and misinformation about law enforcement with Captain Orlando Alanis, Regional Director of Border Patrol, Ronny Dodson, Brewster County Sheriff, and Associate Chief Matthew Roggow of US Customs and Border Protection.

 At noon, Castlen Kennedy, Texas Lyceum Class of 2015, discussed the power of public/private partnerships with Cary Dupuy of the National Parks Conservation Association, Blair Fitzsimons of the Texas Agricultural Land Trust, and Marita Mirzatuny of the Mitchell Foundation/Respect Big Bend Coalition.

After lunch, the group dispersed and enjoyed a variety of outdoor activities that included horseback riding, shooting sports, hiking, zip-lining and golf. That evening, we had cocktails and dinner and listened to Jennifer Sarver, Texas Lyceum Class of 2014, and Carter Smith, Executive Director of Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, discuss Texas’ wealth of public spaces, richness of wildlife flora and fauna and the recent successful election to support a constitutional amendment to dedicate sporting goods sales tax revenue to Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and the Texas Historical Commission.

After Saturday’s board meeting, the group explored the outdoors, this time venturing on to the Rio Grande River, into Big Bend National Park and Boquillas, Mexico. We ended the weekend at the Starlight Theatre Restaurant and Saloon with musical talent, The Kinky Freedoms.

A video highlighting a recap of our meeting and key speakers will be available soon; however, you can view event pictures here. We encourage you to share this information in your community. Each of us needs to do our part to ensure that we conserve Texas’ last frontier and all that it stands for. 

Schedule & Content

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Lajitas Amphitheater

6:00 - 9:00 pm: Picnic dinner and movie under the stars

Join us for cocktails and dinner on the hillside of the Lajitas Pavilion. Enjoy a brief history of the Big Bend region from a local storyteller and then settle in for The River and the Wall, a SXSW award-winning documentary following five friends on an immersive adventure through the unknown wilds of the Texas borderlands. Immediately following this special outdoor screening, Bill Wren of the McDonald Observatory will take us on a journey through the night sky. Big Bend’s state park and national park form one of the largest contiguous areas under dark-skies protection in the United States.
Laura Jennings, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department; Bill Wren, McDonald Observatory

9:00 pm: S’mores by the fire and Hospitality Suite opens

Friday, November 8, 2019

Lajitas Pavilion Ballroom

7:00 - 8:30 am: Breakfast in Restaurant; sponsored by Visit Big Bend 

8:30 - 8:45 am: Welcome and Introduction by Sanjay Ramabhadran, 2019 President of Texas Lyceum

8:45 - 9:15 am: Welcome to the Big Bend by Congressman Will Hurd

U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, R-Helotes, Hurd has represented Texas’ 23rd Congressional District, which has 820 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border and eight national parks and historic sites, since 2015. Prior to serving in Congress, Hurd spent nine years working for the CIA and served as a senior adviser with a cybersecurity firm. Hurd has been a leading congressional voice on the deployment of border security technologies, federal funding to repair and improve aging infrastructure in our national parks and supporting increased investment in federal cybersecurity defense.

9:15 - 10:00 am: Preserving and Conserving the Cultural and Natural Resources of Big Bend

Humans have inhabited the Big Bend region for more than 10,000 years, surviving on native plants and animals. While considered “El Despoblado,” the uninhabited land, by the Spanish and Mexicans, it supports extraordinary biological diversity. This session will cover efforts to preserve and interpret signs left from ancient hunter-gatherers and the work of scientists and landowners to conserve and restore native flora and fauna of the Chihuahuan Desert.  
Dr. Louis Harveson, Borderlands Research Institute, Tim Roberts, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Bonnie McKinnie, El Carmen Land and Conservation Company; Moderated by Zach Brady, Texas Lyceum Class of 2015 

10:00 - 10:15 am: Break 

10:15 - 11:00 am: Exploring the Modern Economy of the Big Bend Region
Mescalero Apache and Comanche once roamed the area we now know as the Big Bend, comprised of Brewster, Jeff Davis and Presidio County. Military forts sprung up after the Civil War and soon after, settlers established large-scale cattle, sheep and goat ranches and miners searched the mountains and foothills for silver and cinnabar. During this panel discussion, we will discuss the state of the modern economy in the region, from multi-generational ranching to tourism and music festivals. 
Bobby McKnight, McKnight Ranches Co., Greg Henington, Far Flung Outdoor Center, Stewart Ramser, Viva Big Bend; Moderated by Natalie Koehler, Texas Lyceum Class of 2014

11:00 - 11:45 am: Border Discussions
The Big Bend region is one of the most remote and least populated segments of Texas’ border with Mexico. For centuries, the region’s inhabitants have viewed the river as both a common resource and a ribbon of bi-national cultural and commercial exchange. Since the 1990s, the U.S. has focused more federal customs and border protection resources in the area and in 2019 the region has seen a rise in the numbers of families crossing the U.S. – Mexico border. In this session, we will discuss border security and migration patterns in the Big Bend.
Captain Orlando Alanis, Regional Director, El Paso, Ronny Dodson, Brewster County Sheriff, Associate Chief Matthew Roggow, US Customs and Border Protection; Moderated by Kevin Robnett, Texas Lyceum Class of 2018

12:00 pm - 1:00 pm: Lunch and Panel Discussion on Conservation Partnerships
Cary Dupuy, Regional Director for National Parks Conservation Association, Blair Fitzsimons, Texas Agricultural Land Trust, Marilu Hastings, Mitchell Foundation/Respect Big Bend; Moderated by Castlen Kennedy, Texas Lyceum Class of 2015

2:00 - 6:00 pm: Free Time and Outdoor Activities - Click here for more information; pre-registration required

6:00 - 9:00 pm: Cocktails, Dinner and Fireside Chat with Carter Smith, Executive Director of Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Lajitas Resort
A conversation to discuss the role of Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, the state’s diverse ecoregions and its innovative approach to partnerships benefiting land, water and wildlife conservation.
Laird Doran, The Friedkin Group, Carter Smith, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Lajitas Resort; Moderated by Jenifer Sarver, Texas Lyceum Class of 2014

9:00 pm: S’mores by the fire and Hospitality Suite opens

Saturday, November 9th 

Lajitas Pavilion Ballroom

8:00 am: Breakfast Available 

8:30 - 10:30 am: Board Meeting -- Directors & Alumni Only

11:00 am- 6:00 pm: Free Time and Outdoor Activities; pre-registration required 

6:30 pm: Bus departs Lajitas for Starlight

7:00 - 11:00 pm: Dinner at the Starlight Theater Restaurant and Saloon with special musical guest