A Quiet Admirer of Public Lands Leaves a Remarkable Legacy

Texas green jay bird

Photo by Rita Jo Poe

Rita Jo Poe spent the latter years of her life crisscrossing the western US in her Airstream trailer. A nature lover and accomplished photographer, Rita dedicated her final years to living among the iconic landscapes and wildlife of America’s national and state parks and wildlife refuges. Now, Rita’s love of wild things and wild places is memorialized through an astonishing legacy. When Rita passed away in 2015, she gifted in her will more than $800,000 to 12 different public lands, including three state parks in Texas.

A private person, Rita seemed most happy surrounded by nature, says her estate executor, Nancy Zingheim. Nancy managed the Washington RV park where Rita spent the last few months of her life. Though she did not know Rita well, Nancy dedicated herself to fulfilling the astonishing act of generosity that Rita laid out in her will. Following Rita’s passing, Nancy embarked on a 4,000-mile journey across the US to visit many of the locations Rita had named in her will. Nancy said, “I wanted the money to go to what Rita would have wanted.”

One of Rita’s passions was birding, illustrated by the treasure trove of exquisite photographs taken with several high-end cameras she owned. Rita’s pursuit of birding brought her to Texas during the winter months. Three Texas State Parks known for being top destinations for bird lovers — Choke Canyon, Hueco Tanks and Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley — are beneficiaries of Rita’s will. Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation (TPWF) is working closely with all three parks to identify projects that will significantly enhance bird habitat and viewing opportunities for other like-minded visitors at these locations. One project, at Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park, has already been completed.

“People who love parks and public lands across the West will benefit from Rita Jo Poe’s generosity for generations to come,” said TPWF Executive Director Anne Brown. “We are grateful for the gift and hope others will emulate her legacy gift.”

Learn more about how to leave a wild legacy for Texas.