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The Founder of Church’s Chicken Spent His Fortune Restoring 5,500 Acres of Texas Wilderness

For half a century, Church’s Chicken co-founder David Bamberger has been working to make sure he’s remembered not for becoming a fast-food mogul, but as Texas’s unlikeliest conservationist. In 1969, he sold his stake in the fried-chicken biz and used the wealth to create Selah, Bamberger Ranch, a chunk of 5,500 acres outside Austin that’s the focus of an inspiring mini-documentary in National Geographic’s Short Film Showcase. “Fifty years ago,” he says, “you couldn’t hardly walk through this place. It was wall-to-wall brush, there wasn’t any grass, there wasn’t any water. Nobody wanted it.”

Now, it’s a sprawling nature preserve:

As he explains, he dug wells almost 500 feet deep and found out they were bone dry, so he planted native grass seeds and within a few years had 11 springs on the preserve. “My objective was to take the worst piece of land I could possibly find in the Hill Country of Texas and begin a process of restoration that would change it back to be one of the best, and that has happened right here. By habitat restoration, by working with Mother Nature instead of against her,” he tells the filmmakers, adding: “And that’s what we’re all about.”

How a Fried-Chicken Mogul Restored 5,500 Acres of Texas Land