By Bryan McAuley, San Felipe de Austin Site Manager
April is National County Government Month, and we’re expressing our appreciation of county officials and their staff with a blog series and other social media posts that highlight county participation in our programs. The Texas Historical Commission (THC) works with counties on countless projects, from County Historical Commissions and historic courthouse restorations to downtown revitalization and historic site development. Thanks to all 254 Texas counties for their support of historic preservation in the Lone Star State!
Austin County has been waiting a long time for a compelling and significant visitors center at San Felipe de Austin State Historic Site that would share the stories of Stephen F. Austin and his early colonists with people from all over the world. As planning gets underway for just such a visitor experience, Austin County has shown its support in many direct ways. Most notably, the county has entered into a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with the THC to share staff and resources to achieve parts of the development project.
Precinct 4 Commissioner Doug King and his staff have taken an active role in clearing some of the acreage that will be part of the new development. Currently, they are assisting in land clearing for areas being considered as the location for the planned new visitors center. The Precinct 4 staffers are very skilled at these land management tasks and also have equipment that is capable of clearing brush and small trees with very minimal surface disturbance—an important consideration for such a significant archeological site.
The site’s relationship with Precinct 4 began under former Commissioner David Hubenak. Since his retirement from county service, Hubenak has taken a role as a member of the Friends of San Felipe de Austin State Historic Site board of directors. During his tenure as Precinct 4 Commissioner, Hubenak and his staff assisted with several projects, including the relocation and storage of a museum collection after the donation of the J.J. Josey Store building to the THC in 2009 and with initial improvements to the longstanding historic site. He has also been a fixture in the annual Austin County Fair parade in support of the site.
But Austin County’s support isn’t limited by precinct boundaries. The current MOA allows for a partnership that involves all county precincts and their support staffs and resources. During the most recent legislative session, Austin County focused on the development at historic San Felipe as the centerpiece of its legislative day agenda when visiting with state leaders. And the current county judge, the Honorable Carolyn Bilski, is in her first year of service as the President of the Friends of the state historic site. Judge Bilski is a tireless advocate for the development of the site and has played an integral role in site promotion, including recent billboard support for the site, ongoing board development, and in efforts to get signage on I-10 to assist travelers in finding San Felipe de Austin.
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