The SITES Gold certified Campsite at Shield Ranch is a 100% off-grid facility comprised of an open-air pavilion, 11 screened sleeping shelters, a trail system, and outdoor gathering spaces. It serves as the new home for Camp El Ranchito, a scholarship-based nature overnight camp. El Ranchito started in 2007 as a primitive campsite with the mission to connect children with the natural world by providing an extraordinarily fun and inspiring nature-immersion experience. When camp is out of session, the Campsite welcomes community groups including nonprofits, businesses, and educational and youth organizations of all ages.
The Campsite is located 22 miles southwest of downtown Austin, Texas. It consists of a 14-acre project area carefully sited at Shield Ranch, an ecologically diverse, 6,400-acre nationally designated historic district and protected wildland.
Special steps were taken to protect the surrounding native woodland and grassland ecosystem and sensitive site features. Ninety-two percent of the project area was designated as Vegetation and Soil Protection Zones. Topsoil in building areas was harvested and stored for reuse on-site to reduce transportation impacts and the potential introduction of invasive species through imported topsoil. Areas of disturbance were restored with diverse native plant species and blend seamlessly into the surrounding landscape. The harvested topsoil also provides a seed bank of species native to the site and not common in commercial trade.
The sleeping shelters were designed as a kit and assembled in the field with minimal site disturbance. The shelters sit lightly on the land and are perched above grade to avoid disturbance to natural water patterns and the surrounding soils which support a diverse native woodland plant community. In addition, campers and guests play an integral role in conserving renewable resources each day. Rainwater showers are set on timers. And energy and water usage are monitored and shared with campers, guests, and staff to emphasize the importance of conservation.
“The Campsite demonstrates our commitment to share more broadly with our community in ways that serve groups while protecting the land for future generations,” says Andrea Mellard, executive director of the Shield Ranch Foundation. “In a rapidly urbanizing region, it’s increasingly important to provide outdoor experiences to promote health, connection, and moments of wonder.”