HAYS COUNTY, Texas -- Twenty acres of newly purchased land by the City of Austin in northern Hays County for watershed protection is proving to be a hotspot for a particular type of crime.
The property used to be part of the Spillar Ranch off of Bliss Spillar Road and Highway 1626.
The parcel of land is also the site of ancient burial and campsites by Native Americans' land, which is protected.
“People lived here more than 10,000 years ago. They conducted their lifestyle here,” said Willy Conrad with the City of Austin’s Water Utility Wildland Conservation.
Bear Creek runs through the property, which is actually a flood plain. Conrad said water from the area eventually flows into Barton Creek.
Thieves have been targeting ancient burial sites and have been digging illegally for artifacts like spearheads, arrowheads, tools and even bones.
“This site is important to everybody in Texas because it tells us about our ancient history,” added Conrad.
The City of Austin is working closely with Texas Parks and Wildlife game wardens, who have set out surveillance cameras and stepped up surprise visits to the area.
“We've actually, in the last six months, probably apprehended and are prosecuting close to a dozen people from this site and another site. A lot of the activity that we've found is in the wee hours of the morning,” said game warden Jake Scott.
At least 12 people were arrested and charged within the past six months.
Jail time can be anywhere from two to 10 years with fines up to $10,000.
“If you want to learn about this stuff, come and talk to us. We do educational events, tours and things like that. Come to see us to learn about it, but if you come here to steal from the people of Austin you're going to get caught and prosecuted,” said Conrad.