Efforts increase to advance massive project from Great Springs to Comal, Hays Counties

With an approximate length of 100 continuous miles from Austin to San Antonio, the Great Springs Project is one of the most ambitious trail concepts in the state of Texas.

When completed, the trail will connect four natural springs roughly parallel to I-35 – Barton Springs in Austin, San Marcos Springs in Hays County, Comal Springs in New Braunfels, and the Blue Hole in San Antonio.

Project CEO Garry Merritt said the main idea was to protect the area’s natural waters while improving the quality of life for area residents.

“This is what people are asking for in the community,” Merritt said. “When cities survey, parks, open spaces, and trails are always one of the top things people ask for in central Texas.”

Planning and organization of the SPG has continued for several years, but local efforts have gathered pace in the first months of this year.

GSP leaders worked with the city and county governments of Hays and Comal counties, where the majority of the trail will exist, to help solidify funding for the definition and construction of smaller trails that will eventually meet to form the GSP.

The overall segment of Austin that begins at Barton Springs will largely be landscaped by the Violet Crown Trail, and it will meet the part of Hays County known as the Emerald Crown Trail.

Further south in Comal County there is not yet a defined overall trail plan that will meet in Bexar County to complete the full path to the Blue Hole Source in San Antonio.

However, New Braunfels officials and staff in January began taking initial steps to fund a trail that could become part of the Great Springs Project.

“This network of trails will connect the Alamo to the capital, and 2036 is the 200th anniversary of Texas’ transformation into a republic,” Merritt said. “So that’s a good target.”

Overview of Hays County

Hays County officials are still working to allocate more funds for trails in the area that will eventually become part of the Great Springs project.

A recently passed $ 75 million county parks package could go a long way toward that end, according to Hays County Commissioner for District 3, Lon Shell.

In anticipation of the passage of this link, county officials reformed the Parks and Open Space Advisory Commission, or POSAC, which is a body made up of members appointed by the tribunal of commissioners as well as county staff and a facilitator.

Part of their job is to accept and make recommendations to the court on open space projects across the county based on their master plan, and that will include anything related to the Great Springs project, Shell said. .

One project that GSP staff has submitted to POSAC so far involves land northwest of San Marcos.

“This project was recommended [to the court] by POSAC, which means it’s on the list, ”Shell said. “The real determination of the funding and of this project becoming a reality is what will [likely] arrive … with the help of our [POSAC] program manager, who will guide us through this planning process. “

San Marcos staff said that with the city’s role in planning the Great Springs project still being strictly conceptual and without firm details, they did not want to provide an interview at this time.

“Our team has had a few meetings with Mr. Merritt, but city council has yet to weigh in on the trail to discuss cost details,” Nadine Bonewitz, senior communications specialist for San Marcos, said in an email. . “The point is, it’s too early in the process for the relevant members of our team to talk about the process and the project.”

Shell said it expects funding and other planning recommendations to flow through POSAC to the Hays County Commissioners Court this summer, and that approvals and other definitions are expected to come after that.

In addition to the local governments of Hays County, other entities are working to make the Great Springs project a reality, including the San Marcos Greenbelt Alliance.

Former SMGA President Mark Taylor said that once Hays County, San Marcos, Buda and Kyle committed to being part of the Emerald Crown Trail, he helped form a group of work in 2017 called Emerald Crown Work Group.

This committee includes SMGA, Texas State University Meadows Center, and TSU’s Geography Department, among other stakeholders.

The purpose of this working group was to connect with local governments to implement a plan for the Emerald Crown Trail that would involve the laying of corridors across the county.

Taylor said the task force’s plans have been delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but some initiatives are already underway, including work with members of the Great Springs Project.

“We’re sort of adapting to the larger vision of the Great Springs Project… to create an Austin-San Antonio trail, as well as conservation land, along the way,” he said.

An emerging path in Kyle

While the entire Great Springs Project is not expected to be completed until 2036, several segments are expected to be part of the overall trail that are either in the planning stages or in various stages of construction.

As an example, part of the project that crosses Hays County – the Kyle portion of the Emerald Crown Trail – is at this point well defined. Much of it is called the Plum Creek part because of the body of water it follows from west to east through the city.

“We have agreements with some property owners or developers who have defined the trail across their property from the Blanco River in the west to Cool Springs in the east,” said Scott Sellers, Town Manager of Kyle. “Now, what we call the Buda / Kyle segment, that hasn’t been defined that yet.”

Vendors said another part that needed even more work is what city staff and officials refer to as the Kyle / San Marcos segment, which would run from Cool Springs east of Kyle south to San Marcos. .

But for the major segments of the Plum Creek portion, work is either underway or in the planning of fundraising.

The furthest segment of the Plum Creek portion is called the Spring Branch, which runs from RM 150 West to James Atkins Drive.

The city solidified $ 387,500 for this piece – more than half through a grant from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and the rest in matching funding from city coffers.

These costs cover the work which includes the laying of concrete, the removal of vegetation and environmental studies.

“The Great Springs Project is interested in this Kyle leg because it fits into the larger north-south trail in Emerald Crown, but it does so in a very roundabout way,” Sellers said. “And we’re using their expertise (of the GSP leaders) to align the trails and build more community input and feedback into the process.”

Comal County in the early stages

The process of creating trails that will house the Great Springs Project is not as advanced in Comal County as it is in Hays County.

At a New Braunfels city council meeting in January, Merritt addressed officials with a presentation on the benefits of the trail and an offer to help city staff apply for a TPWD grant.

The grant was $ 250,000 to pay for a segment of what will likely become the Alligator Creek Trail. The 46 acres of land donated by the DH Horton Development Company and set aside for this segment represent the first physical ideas for a trail that could be part of the Great Springs Project. New Braunfels staff said they were awaiting a response from TPWD in May.

In the meantime, local promoters of the Great Springs project are excited about its potential.

“It will showcase the best areas of New Braunfels, namely the green space and the local community,” said Stacey Dicke, director of parks and recreation for New Braunfels. “There would be [also] be a great tourist draw for people who come to visit the state for sure. “

Dicke, Merritt and several other Comal County stakeholders are now working to identify trail connections in the north and south.

Beyond the Alligator Creek Trail which runs mostly north and south through northern New Braunfels, Dicke said another possible connector could be what’s known as the Dry Comal Creek Corridor. The two are still in the planning and design phases, Dicke said, and added that there was not yet a definitive association with the Great Springs project for either of the future trails.

Another reason developers in Comal County say they are excited about the Great Springs project is because of the increased public green space it has the potential to bring.

“It is always a concern, especially in Comal County, that there is hardly any public green space available,” said Nancy Pappas, founder of the Comal Trails Alliance. “There are only a few small trails in nature, so more collective effort is needed. There are small rooms here in New Braunfels, but very few of them are connected. “

Along with Alligator Creek and Dry Comal Creek, Pappas mentioned Panther Canyon Nature Trail near Landa Park as another possible link.

The biggest challenge for the overall effort in Comal County remains finding funding, Pappas said, adding that collaborative efforts to that end will be crucial as the Great Springs Project progresses.

After the Great Springs Project is completed, Merritt said its combination of features – its existence in a rapidly developing corridor, its connection of several metropolitan areas, its urban and rural components, its involvement of four natural sources – will make it one of the most special outdoor projects in the country.

“There are places that have regional trails that connect areas to communities, but nothing that has all of these elements that I know of,” he said.

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