SAN ANTONIO – The Great Springs Project is hoping to bring a 100-mile hiking trail that will connect four major springs between Austin and San Antonio.
Referred to as a “green corridor” the proposed project would connect Barton Springs, San Marcos Springs, Comal Springs, and San Antonio Springs.
“People see parks and greenway projects as important parts of a community. When you ask people what they want in their community, having access to the outdoors is always one of the top two or three things,” Project CEO Garry Merritt told KVUE in Austin.
Merritt said that the hiking trail has an estimated completion date of 2036, but there is a lot to accomplish before ground can be broken.
A press release from the U.S. Department of the Interior states that the Great Springs Project was selected to receive support from the National Park Service which will help pair the project with professional landscape architects and community planners.
“The goal of Great Springs Project is to add an additional 50,000 acres of protected lands over the Edwards Aquifer recharge and contributing zones between the dense urban areas of Austin and San Antonio, while linking this green corridor via a network of multi-use trails,” according to a National Park Service spokesperson.
But who will pay for this and where will the land come from?
A recent article from the Austin Chronicle notes that a conservation easement, where private landowners get tax cuts in return for ceding their right to develop on the land, would be the big ticket to helping get the project going legally.
However, getting private landowners to agree on public access to their properties, especially along that large of a stretch of land, is a massive undertaking and is historically difficult.
Project leaders are banking on tax cuts for landowners to help push the project forward in terms of securing land.
Chief development officer Emma Lindrose-Siegel told the Austin Chronicle that there is no current plan for where trails will be located since the project is still in development but that only “a small amount of the total land conserved will have [an] actual trail on it ... A priority is protecting the habitat of endangered species endemic to our region.”
As for how the project will be funded, Great Springs leaders say large philanthropic donations, in addition to federal money, will be necessary to complete the vision.
Ultimately, the Great Springs Project hopes to unify existing local efforts while addressing critical water, land, wildlife, and public health challenges that face the Central Texas Region, the project’s website states.
In 2020, the project surpassed several political milestones as well with the passing of Prop A and Prop B in Travis County. “The passing of these bond packages secures the transformation of Austin’s transportation structure and ensures safe mobility for all,” according to project officials.
In Hays County, Prop A was also passed which helps ensure the protection of rivers, creeks and springs in the area as well as allocate funds for the creation of new parks, protection of open spaces, and preservation of natural areas within Hays County.
A master trail plan is expected to be completed by Alta Planning + Design sometime in early fall 2021, according to KVUE.
“We are the holders of the vision, but the work is being done by local groups that have their own trails and work for their communities,” Merritt told KVUE. “Our job is to support those local projects and figure out how to connect them.”
Project leaders spoke with former San Antonio Mayor Phil Hardberger who said “I think you could get public excitement quite easily. Nobody needs [the trails] more right now than Austin to San Antonio,” according to San Antonio Report.
Hardberger has previously helped fundraise for major park projects in the city, including the recently completed land bridge that connects both sections of Phil Hardberger Park.
So, before the Great Springs Project can officially break ground, officials need permission from landowners, secured partnerships with local and national parks and funding.
For more information on the Great Springs Project, click here.