City of Austin Honor William H. Russell

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Katherine Arens
Katherine Arens signed this petition

Petition to Rename the Blowing Sink Research Management Area the William H. Russell Karst Preserve and to declare, through proclamation, June 30th as William H. Russell Austin Cave Heritage Day.

 

Background:

The City of Austin was founded where it sits due to the presence of Karst, a type of land terrain characterized by the dissolution of rock by water. Karst is usually observable in a given area by the prevalence of Sinkholes, Disappearing Streams, Caves, and Springs. Indeed, the abundant water of numerous springs is what borne the town of Waterloo, which would grow into Austin.  

Unfortunately, early settlers did not understand that the caves of the surrounding uplands are inlets to an aquifer which feeds the springs and wells. Most caves were deliberately plugged and filled in an attempt to keep water at the surface for livestock. Exacerbating our loss of caves, the 1950s saw a horrible drought followed by epic floods. Overgrazing had left large swaths of earth with no roots to hold onto the soil, and when torrents of water washed across the land and into the caves it carried this dirt with it.

Through deliberate filling and human-caused erosion, the Austin area lost almost all of its caves by the turn of the 20th century.  

William H. Russell excavated and documented more caves in the Greater Austin area than any other person, bar none. Working as a brother, father, and grandfather figure within the caving community, he mentored and/or inspired possibly every cave scientist and cave digger working in Central Texas. His work, along with the work done by those he mentored, is in the view of many the direct progenitor for the very existence of an entire Division of the City of Austin: Wildlands Conservation Division. Nearly every cave currently managed under the Balcones Canyonlands Conservation Plan required excavation for exploration. More than likely, none of those caves would be known without the influence of William Russell. The City of Austin's rich heritage of protecting caves and associated wildlands for the preservation of water quality can be attributed to many people, but to no one more so than William H. Russell.

William Russell's passing on March 21, 2019 left a huge void in the world.

Not only was he a driving force here at home, he was one of the most prolific cavers the North American continent has ever seen. His name can be found on cave maps from sea to shining sea. As a member of the National Speleological Society he was awarded a Certificate of Merit, made a Fellow of the Society, and was awarded Honorary Membership, which confers the society’s highest honor.

Beyond the United States, in 1966 William Russell discovered Huautla. It’s now over 50 years later, and Huautla is considered one the world's premier caves, so deep and extensive that it is still being explored today. William's discovery was not happenstance, but rather the culmination of applied knowledge and countless hours reviewing geologic and topographic maps. Building on that knowledge, the Huautla cave system is now known to be the deepest proven hydrological system in the world.

Back at home, William was a powerful force in re-opening, mapping and preserving our local caves, which suffered from widespread filling. In addition to discovering the deepest caves of the Western Hemisphere, he also discovered the deepest caves of Central Texas. He located the deepest caves in Austin through similar applied knowledge and researching local geological and topographic maps. Even though the caves had been filled, their mark upon the geography was obvious to William. With great effort, he discovered the deep caves of the Blowing Sink tract, even digging through 12 feet of clay fill to reach Winter Woods cave. The current namesake of the preserve, Blowing Sink Cave, has provided the only humanly accessible route to the water table within the Barton Springs Segment of the Edwards Aquifer. Years of hard science have revealed that one cannot overestimate the significance of this preserve to the water quality of Barton Springs or, for that matter, the entire Barton Springs Segment of the Edwards Aquifer and all of its dependent life.

From 1997 to 2000, he lobbied to have the land donated to the City of Austin as a preserve so that its rich cave treasures could be protected and further explored by local cavers. Since acquisition by the City, the preserve was named the Blowing Sink Research Management Area, and the exploration of its cave resources has essentially stopped. None of the preserve's caves have been fully explored.

It is almost impossible to fully quantify the valuable contributions and credible service that William Russell spent his life dedicating to the Caves of Austin.

Proposition:

The City of Austin rename the Blowing Sink Research Management Area as the William H. Russell Karst Preserve and engage the local caving community as the most knowledgeable stakeholders in further exploration and documentation of its karst resources.   

The City of Austin issue a proclamation that June 30th is William H. Russell Austin Cave Heritage Day.