Imagine a 100-mile network of hiking and biking trails that run from the Texas Capitol in Austin to the Alamo in San Antonio, and on the way to the Barton, San Marcos, Comal, and San Antonio springs. This is the vision of the Great Springs Project, which started in 2018 and is currently working on a master plan to make this a reality.
The route will create a corridor of protected areas over the charging zone of Edwards Aquifer that feeds all four of these major sources.
“Our CEO and co-founder Deborah Morin had the idea and vision 25 years ago,” says Emma Lindrose-Siegel, the organization’s chief development officer. “Around 2017 she realized that we need to act now as the area is growing so fast and things are getting so much more expensive.”
The main job is to protect and connect the springs, says CEO Garry Merritt. “People come to the hill country to connect with nature. Our mission is to use market based transactions to protect the four main sources between San Antonio and Austin and to connect these sources with a network of trails. “
Great Springs hired Alta Planning + Design to create a trail master plan that should be completed in summer or early fall 2021. Alta has worked on a number of key trails including projects in Oregon, Kentucky, New Mexico, Tennessee, and New York. The process will include extensive stakeholder engagement and the identification of the required plots.
The group, whose board members include Whole Foods founder John Mackey and star architect Ted Flato, aims to work with other nonprofits, city and county governments, and Edwards Aquifer authorities. The idea is to complement ongoing efforts like the Violet Crown Trail in Austin and to support the creation and maintenance of trails across the region.
“We own the vision, but the work is done by local groups that go their own way and work for their communities,” says Merritt. “Our job is to support these local projects and find out how they can be linked together.”
“Because there is so much growth in the region, we have to act now, otherwise we will lose the opportunity to protect land above the recharge zones and the aquifer,” says Lindrose-Siegel.
The organization received a grant from the National Parks Service to assist with community planning and technical support for the master planning process. Merritt said the plans will draw on science and data from various groups, including the Meadows Center for Water and Environment in San Marcos and the executives at Barton Springs, to identify properties and find ways to protect or conserve them in turn protect the sources.
“Outdoor recreation spaces are critical to communities and the need for access is greater than ever,” says Merritt. “People see parks and greenway projects as important parts of a community. When you ask people what they want in their community, access to nature is always one of the two or three most important things. People want parks, open spaces, and trails. “If everything goes according to plan, they’ll have 100 miles left by 2036.