Wimberley, Texas - A Zip Code, A Village, A City? A Continuing Identity Crisis in the Texas Hill Country.

In May, 2000, after an intense battle, the community voted to incorporate as the Village of Wimberley in an effort to manage growth in the central area of Wimberley more responsibly. Incorporation brought portions of the community into a municipal government. This incorporated area operated as the Village of Wimberley for only 7 years before the village council voted to rename the municipality a city in June of 2008.

The Village of Wimberley and the City of Wimberley will likely remain interchangeable nomenclature for some years to come. As one example, the local library is maintained as the Wimberley Village Library District through sales tax, grants and donations. Local vacation lodging and shops also often use the village name to emphasize the smaller size and small town ambience of the area.
Another City of Wimberley resident facing challenges of continued growth.
Photo 2007, VisitWimberley.com

With only a few thousand people within the incorporated area, and Austin or San Antonio only 50 miles away, residents disagree about whether the "city" designation was accurate. Whether or not the name change simply reflected the shift in attitude that had already occurred, from that of "village" to "city" due to the heavy influx of new residents, Wimberley and the Wimberley Valley continue to face 21st century challenges that include water quality, water supply, sewer, disposal, and energy issues, among others. All these are exacerbated by increasing population density.

The history of Wimberley, Texas reveals that the area offered few attractions to outsiders until the last few decades. Native Americans were the first known residents of what is now known as Wimberley. Artifacts from the Paleo-Indian period, from (10,000 to 8,000 B.C.E.) can commonly be found throughout Central Texas, including the Clovis point on weapons mostly used in mammoth-hunting. Much later, exploration and exploitation by 16th century Spanish explorers and the 17th century Spanish church left behind a few families who put down roots in the area. In the middle of rugged, rocky, hill country, with summers of intense heat, they still were far from numerous.

The sparseness of the population helped to maintain the ecological value of the area including  water availability, wildlife, and natural beauty.

Until the late 20th century, Wimberley remained a loosely-defined, sprawling community that largely grew around a grist mill built in the mid-19th century. During that time, and for decades after, a single zip coed defined the area known as "Wimberley," including the Wimberley Valley. In the mid 1900s, much of the population consisted of ranchers, ranch hands, and third and fourth generation landowners, with a sprinkling of city dwellers who would trek to Wimberley to stay in their vacation cottages.

By the early 1990s the influx of retirees from Houston, San Antonio, Dallas and points north quickly began to tip the balance of area population toward an older demographic who wanted a piece of the hill country, but who were unwilling to relinquish city amenities and who were without first-hand experience in dealing with inevitable cycles of drought. More recently, infrastructure challenges increased as refugees from the California housing crisis poured in, hoping to find a less expensive way to maintain lifestyle. The primary industry in the Wimberley area became the sale of real estate, and developers and investors followed. Former ranch land and undisturbed wildlife habitats were replaced by hardscape and subdivided areas. Uncontrolled growth has threatened to destroy the qualities that originally attracted people to the area. (See more about water issues here.)

Present day concerns include the preservation of natural resources, especially the water supply, wastewater usage and treatment, flooding danger - which has increased through addition of hardscapes and development, protection of areas of natural beauty, preservation of open-space land, transportation issues, respect for wildlife habitats and populations and soil quality eroding through development.

Most experts agree that the combined efforts of responsible municipal oversight and individual responsibility are now Wimberley's best, last chance for retrieving and continuing quality of life for those who live in the Wimberley Valley and those who come to visit the area. Sustainable practices like rainwater harvesting, sourcing solar energy, and energy conservation by property owners and businesses could make it possible to nurse the valley back to health and return much of it to a state of natural wonder. However, significant barriers to these practices still exist through lack of rebates and other support from the local utility, Pedernales Electric Cooperative.

The race is on to see whether Wimberley becomes just another dusty Texas town between two metropolitan areas, or whether the natural gifts that originally made the Wimberley Valley so attractive to those who discovered it can be salvaged.

*Definitions (Merriam-Webster):
Village - A small community in a rural area, sometimes (as in parts of the U.S.) incorporated as a municipality.
City - A large or important town or the major metropolitan center of a region.