The Texas Hill Country, a unique and cherished region known for its diverse wildlife, pristine springs, picturesque rural landscapes, historic towns, and some of the clearest night skies in the nation, is facing the challenges of rapid population growth and increasing development. To protect the area's special qualities, the Hill Country Alliance (HCA) annually conducts a photo contest that encourages photographers to capture the essence of the Texas Hill Country they wish to safeguard for generations to come.
Between March and May of 2023, HCA received an impressive 500 entries in the 2023 Hill Country Photo Contest, showcasing the breathtaking beauty of the region. Amateur and professional photographers alike submitted captivating images, featuring enchanting wildlife and the starry Texas nights that define the Hill Country's unique treasures.
This year, the People's Choice prize went to Michael Kinder's stunning photograph of a Great Blue Heron at Inks Lake State Park, receiving nearly 700 votes. As a reward, Michael Kinder was recognized with a cash prize and the honor of having his photo featured in the 2024 Hill Country calendar. Additionally, a panel of judges selected four more winning photographs, all of which are prominently featured in the HCA's popular 2024 Texas Hill Country Calendar, available on the HCA website.
The grand prize-winning photograph, titled "Hawkeye," was captured by Alan Zhou at Mueller Greenway in Austin. This close-up view of a Red-tailed Hawk highlights the diverse habitats where hawks can be found across the Hill Country, from urban areas to undeveloped, open spaces. The contest entries predominantly showcase the region's captivating wildlife, emphasizing the importance of preserving this delicate web of life. This connection underscores HCA's Land Program, which is dedicated to advancing local land stewardship and conservation efforts that directly benefit the wildlife and open spaces of the Texas Hill Country.
Rob Knerr's photograph "Enchantment" earned first place in the contest, displaying the Milky Way over Enchanted Rock near Fredericksburg. Enchanted Rock State Park's status as an International Dark Sky Park reflects the region's commitment to reducing light pollution and preserving clear night skies. Texas residents are encouraged to get involved in initiatives like Lights Out Texas, local Friends of the Night Sky groups, and HCA's Night Sky Program to protect the connection to the cosmos.
Joseph Richards' photograph, "United," received second place for capturing a heartwarming moment between two gray foxes, emphasizing their role as omnivores that contribute to the region's ecological balance.
In third place, Wade Blissard's "Middle Creek" photograph, taken near Johnson City, serves as a poignant reminder of the vital role of water in the Texas Hill Country, especially after recent challenging drought conditions. HCA's Water Program is actively collaborating with local advocates, community leaders, and groundwater districts to ensure the region's water supply remains resilient and accessible to both its human residents and the diverse wildlife.
Beyond the contest winners, the Hill Country Alliance recognizes the many other contestants whose photography is featured in the 2024 Hill Country Calendar. Their contributions highlight the region's unique beauty and the importance of preserving its natural resources.
The 2024 Hill Country Calendar, featuring these stunning photos, is now available for purchase on the Hill Country Alliance website. This annual calendar, now in its 16th year, not only showcases the captivating images from the photo contest but also serves as an informative resource on Hill Country conservation. HCA hopes that their annual photo contest and calendar will inspire residents to learn more about the environment and biology of the Texas Hill Country and become actively involved in protecting this exceptional region's natural resources.
The Hill Country Alliance is a nonprofit organization whose purpose is to raise public awareness and build community support around the need to preserve the natural resources and heritage of the Central Texas Hill Country. Visit us at www.hillcountryalliance.org.