Folks in the Field - Katherine Romans

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Folks in the Field - Katherine Romans

Starting as the Landowner Outreach Manager at Hill Country Alliance, Katherine Romans love for the region combined with her non-profit and policy expertise made her a natural fit to become the Executive Director for the regional non-profit organization. Romans lives in Austin with her husband and two kids.

Destination Dripping Springs sat down with Katherine to chat about the Hill Country Alliance and your conservation work.

Destination Dripping Springs: Hey Katherine, thanks for meeting with us. Would you tell our readers a little bit about yourself and your background?

Katherine Romans: It’s such an honor to be included in Birds and Blooms! I am the Executive Director of the Hill Country Alliance (HCA), a regional nonprofit working to protect the land, water, night skies and communities of the Texas Hill Country. Before stepping into the Executive Director role, I served as the landowner outreach manager, working with landowners all over the Hill Country to access grant funding for good land stewardship projects, like reseeding native grasses, fencing along creeks to better manage grazing, and doing careful brush control.

Broadly speaking, HCA seeks to bridge traditional divides, bring people, organizations, and communities together, and find elegant solutions to some of the most difficult challenges our region faces as we grow. We work across 17 counties of Central Texas, from downtown Austin to downtown Junction, Uvalde, and San Antonio.

My background is a blend of policy and nonprofit experience, always with an eye toward conservation. I focused my graduate degree studies on the environment in urban areas. I studied how cities plan for parks, trails, and urban forest cover in order to provide transportation alternatives, recreational opportunities, health benefits, and ecosystem services like flood mitigation and cooling. HCA gives me a chance to blend my background in planning and policy with very tangible on-the-ground conservation projects.

The HCA offices are on 290 in Dripping Springs (just east of the post office), and I live in south Austin with my husband Cody and our two children, Callie and Lucas. Seeing our kids explore all the things I love most about the Hill Country—from the dark night skies to the crystal-clear waters of Cypress Creek—has made me all the more passionate about protecting those natural resources for future generations.

DDS: What conservation related projects are you currently working on at HCA and what kind of impact would it make in the Dripping Springs area?

KR: The Hill Country Alliance and many of our partners worked hard behind the scenes to help with the passage of Hays County’s most recent parks and open space bond package. Approved by the voters in November of 2020, it authorizes $75 million in bond funding for trails, open space protections, new parks and infrastructure. Some of the most exciting projects will be in and around the Dripping Springs area, including a new “town center” project off Mercer Street. Also included in this bond was a new county park along the Blanco River. Once complete, it will offer another great place for all Hill Country residents and visitors alike to take a swim and enjoy the incredible biodiversity of the Hill Country.

More broadly, we work to support communities in protecting our long term economic and environmental vitality as we grow. After all, what would the Hill Country look like if we ran out of groundwater below our feet and spring flow to sustain our creeks? We work with partners to advance water solutions to reduce our overall water footprint and ensure that our creeks stay clean.

Some of HCA’s work involves raising awareness of the need to protect our view of the night sky by using better outdoor lighting. Simply pointing lights downward and directing it where needed can yield benefits for humans and wildlife alike. Dripping Springs has been a leader in the region when it comes to night sky friendly lighting.

DDS: What do you feel like is the biggest threat to open-spaces/water in the Hill Country and what can residents do to mitigate that threat?

KR: The Hill Country is one of the fastest growing regions in the entire country, including three of the top five fastest growing counties nationwide. That growth—and the fragmentation of open space, increasing demand on water resources, and loss of habitat that comes with it—is the greatest threat facing our region.

At the same time, we know there are easy and powerful solutions out there. Each of us can work to limit our own footprint on the land, while also finding ways to “put it back like it was.” For example, if every Hill Country home replaced its traditional water-thirsty turfgrass lawn with a native garden of wildflowers, grasses and shrubs, we would be restoring habitat for native flora and fauna and reducing the strain on our water resources (my go-to source for native plants and seeds is Native American Seed in Junction, TX).

Beyond looking at our own footprints, we can look for ways to ensure that new growth coming to our area is protective of natural resources. If we want to be sure that our rural working lands, clear creeks, and quality of life is maintained, we need to support those organizations, businesses, and community leaders willing to push for good growth, as opposed to growth at any cost.

And of course, find a local nonprofit that is contributing to a positive way to protecting the waters, open spaces, and habitats of the Hill Country, and then show your love by donating to them! You can give to HCA by visiting our website, www.hillcountryalliance.org.

DDS: What’s your favorite part of working at HCA?

KR: Hands down the best thing about working for HCA is the network of residents, landowners, and partner organizations we get to work with on a daily basis. People move to the Hill Country because they love the charming towns, stunning vistas, hidden swimming holes, iconic species, and spring-fed creeks. There is no shortage of people here willing to roll up their sleeves and work to control invasive species, champion better outdoor lighting to protect our view of the night sky, advocate for better water management policies, or build a new trail or bird blind. Over my eight years of working with the Hill Country Alliance, I’ve had the opportunity to drive the backroads of our region. I’ve met hardworking landowners, fearless elected officials, and tireless volunteers. It is the people of the Hill Country that make me optimistic for our collective future.

DDS: What’s your favorite place to visit in the Dripping Springs area? It can be a park, or a winery, brewery, or distillery, or any other destination!

There are so many at the top of my list I’d have a hard time just picking one! For parks, my family loves visiting the ‘string of pearls’ along Hamilton Pool Road- Milton Reimers Ranch Park, Westcave Outdoor Discovery Center, and Hamilton Pool. Any park with access to water is an oasis in the heat of the summer months.

I also love that the Dripping Springs area has so many great outdoor food and drink havens that are perfect for family outings and feature room to run under big, impressive shade trees. Treaty Oak, Jester King, Vista Brewing and Duchman Family Winery jump to mind.

DDS: Is there a specific native animal that tops your bucket list – or one that everyone strives to see in the area?

KR: I have a two year old at home, so EVERY animal siting is cause for celebration (cows, goats, and sheep included!). Of course this time of year is a great time to see the Hill Country’s most famous endemic bird—the golden-cheeked warbler. We have such a narrow window of opportunity to see them as they are nesting and hatching their young in the spring and early summer, that it’s a season that I look forward to every year. But in all honesty it is some of the more common birds that really get my heart singing. There is nothing quite like paddling along a quiet stretch of a Hill Country river and having a great blue heron take off just a few dozen feet from your boat. Places like the Pedernales River, Onion Creek, and Barton Creek are great for seeing such a majestic bird from a close distance.


If you'd like to find out more about the Hill Country Alliance or donate to the organization, visit their website: Hill Country Alliance
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