Spring Lake Preserve Trail Under Construction

Spring Lake Preserve sits on a hill over the headwaters to the San Marcos River and the end of Sink Creek. The 250 acres were once explored by developers and slated to be the location of the San Marcos Convention Center – now towering over McCarty Lane. Rather than parking lots and conferences people will find ancient oaks hung with Spanish moss, a grove of mountain laurel and vistas overlooking the hill country. Residents can go there to breathe fresh air, hike or bike and be reminded that people have been walking these hills for 12,000 years.

Compass installation at Spring Lake Preserve
A trail in Spring Lake Preserve is presently under construction. Texas State University and the City of San Marcos coordinated the hire of a contractor to build the trails. The new trail starts on Texas State property by the golf maintenance shack on Laurel Ridge Road. Three yellow-striped gates have been placed, one at the trail entrance and two sectioning off a compost area, used to dispose of the vegetation harvested by underwater gardeners at Aquarena Springs. A packed limestone gravel path, wide enough for a car, has been laid. The old Aquarena boat barn is no longer there, only the slab remains. Once up in the trees, there is a kiosk roof structure built by a Boy Scout group. There are also cedar benches occasionally along the path. The tree branches have been clipped to clear the path.

The park is not yet open to the public. The trail will be completed for opening around the beginning of February.

- Mary Van Zant, SMGA Board Member

Can We Reach 100?

SMGA needs just 2 more memberships to hit a triple-digit membership total for the first time! Help us hit the big 1-0-0 before the new year. You can join for as little as $5 and 5 hours of volunteer work, or just $25 individual or $35 family.

Your membership in SMGA helps us continue our natural area monitoring and maintenance activities, promotion and evolution of a greenbelt vision for San Marcos, and outreach efforts to make visitors and residents aware of the need to conserve natural areas for the health of our environment, our spirits, and our economy.

Change and Challenge on Sessom Creek

We were asked recently about changes likely on a property that was once home of Rivendell Restaurant just up from the intersection of North LBJ and Chestnut Street. For some this is the entrance into what is sometimes called (erroneously it could be argued) the Sessom Greenspace. The City of San Marcos holds several disconnected parcels of properties that make up an undeveloped greenbelt that sweeps along the north side of Sessom Drive as it rises up to West campus.

There are many things to consider when trying to determine the overall value to the city if this change is realized. For many who love natural areas it would seem completely unwelcome. The property in question was purchased with the intent of creating a mixed use site in which residential, retail and parking would be somewhat vertically built to fit a relatively small foot print. The current proposal has over 100 student living units, retail on the first and second floors, and the required dedicated parkland.

On the positive side is the opportunity to have increased residential density and local services. Density close to the center of campus and the city center reduces commute times and enables bike and pedestrian activity. The nearby retail provides services that further reduce travel and provide some employment. And placing this density close to downtown means natural areas on the edge of the city may be spared from sprawl. While SMGA often supports many forms of development for these reasons, we also balance that support with concerns, and sometimes active opposition, about keeping the most valuable natural resources protected, healthy and able to offer the long list of benefits they give to residents and visitors. Sessom Creek is one of those natural resources.

Sessom Creek is the first creek to flow into the San Marcos River below Spring Lake, but is unrecognizeable as a creek below LBJ Drive due to paving, concrete and channelization. Any construction in any portion of the watershed must have effective and closely monitored runoff control measures during and after construction. The city and the university have recently improved their watershed management with better design, construction and monitoring; coordination and planning have significantly improved as well. The city, county and the university have recently entered into an agreement that will create an upper San Marcos watershed protection plan. Many of these recent improvements would not have happened without citizens paying close attention to activities and the direct involvement of the SM River Foundation (SMRF). The Chestnut Street property is something SMGA and SMRF will be watching closely.

You can participate by reporting unusual activities to the City of San Marcos and SMRF along the creek and staying informed about watershed activities. In the meantime we will continue to urge stakeholders to conserve the natural areas that protect Sessom Creek and all of the upper San Marcos watershed.

What's Up With the Black & Blue at Ringtail?

Hikers at Ringtail may see blue squares and black diamonds on trail signs - what's up with that?  These are the symbols that rate trail difficulty for mountain bikers as suggested by the International Mountain Bikers Association. Rating trails can be a tricky operation. It is something like trying to bring uniformity to the rating of how hot a bowl of chili is. Trails happen on all kinds of terrain with different expectations from users who may come from distant locations. Even bike equipment could change the difficulty for any given biker.

It is a good idea however to offer potential riders a sense of what they can expect on the trail so they can choose trails that match their skill level. A challenging ride can also be a successful and safer ride with the right information. Visit IMBA Trail Rating for more about their system, including this table:

Trail Difficulty rating

- Todd Derkacz, SMGA Board Member

Expert Guidance from Minnette Marr on Invasives Control

Minnette Marr discusses plant options for karst features
Members of the SMGA Stewardship Committee received expert guidance recently from Minnette Marr, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center botanist and San Marcos resident. Minnette addressed how to limit invasive plants in the 9-acre, Prospect Park portion of lower Purgatory Creek Natural Area and what should be planted to encourage diversity and groundwater conservation.
Minnette Marr, SMGA advisor
Ligustrum lucidum or glossy privet is a major concern and the subject of efforts to reduce its numbers. Work by the SMGA trail crew at the two karst features (limestone openings to the aquifer) in Prospect Park over the past couple of months have included replacing the cloth debris barrier with limestone rocks and thinning the ligustrum, which blocks sunlight from the ground. Minnette suggested false dayflower, cedar sedge, and Texas winter grass as alternatives to cover the barren soil. Milkweed, southwest bristle grass and other forbs, and coreopsis are also good options to consider. Along the walkways where ligustrum and the ever-abundant ashe juniper shades the trail, Marr suggested persimmon, rusty blackhaw, soapberry, spiny hackberry, anacua, and Lindheimer silk tassel as replacements.

Setting long range goals is an important first step towards replacing invasives and over abundant native plants. In addition to setting goals, transects, photo points, or other means will be used to measure success towards achieving those goals. Minnette emphasized that the landscape is always dynamic and a mosaic and that improvements to attract desired species, a diversity of grasses and forbs, and conservation of rainwater are all beneficial goals.

Stewardship Committee members were pleased to note that lower Purgatory was enjoyed by a number of local residents. During 2 hours on a pleasant Sunday afternoon, groups of dog walkers, runners, and even a trio of musicians enjoyed the natural area.

- Lance Jones, SMGA Stewardship Committee Member

Meet Park Ranger Larry Soza

If “park ranger” makes you think of that cranky cartoon character who chased Yogi Bear and Boo-Boo around Jellystone Park, and you think you’d have to visit a state or national park to see a real one—welcome to my world. That’s pretty much how uninformed I was until I got wised up a few weeks ago, thanks to a delightful conversation with Larry Soza, the newest park ranger right here in our own little ol’ city of San Marcos.

This past June, Larry joined the local force of about fifteen park rangers (fifteen—who knew?) as the one and only full-time member. Launched into his new job amidst the turbulent rush of summer river traffic, he quickly came to rely upon the knowledge and experience of his part-time colleagues, many of whom are San Marcos natives or long-time residents, and several of whom split their time among other such public-service careers as firefighters, paramedics, and sheriff’s deputies.

He’s still learning his way around town and all the various park spaces, but Larry brings to his new position more than 25 years of experience in law enforcement, first in Corpus Christi where he earned his commission as a police officer, followed by nine years as an officer in his nearby hometown of Robstown. After meeting his wife, he moved a little further west to join her in Alice, Texas, and spent eleven more years on the police force there. Meanwhile, the Sozas made many trips to Central Texas to visit their daughter as she attended UT and then married and settled in New Braunfels. They grew fond of this area and felt it offered better opportunities for themselves and their son, so when the chance for early retirement arose, Larry took it and they headed this direction. Nowadays, you might very well glimpse him tooling down Hunter Road on his Suzuki Intruder, soaking up the countryside between here and New Braunfels. “I like it here,” he says. “I love it!”

As vital to his park-ranger role as his street cred as a cop is Larry’s passion for the outdoors and the natural world. Being outside was a fundamental part of his life growing up. He clearly cherishes memories of helping his father work the family’s ranching property near Robstown, and he still owns land there that he visits regularly. This love of the land is a legacy he has always shared with others, particularly his son. He says the two of them often trek off to their hunting blind and find themselves more than content simply to sit, observe, and enjoy. Larry’s wife is also a happy camper—literally. Camping has always been a favorite activity for the couple, and his wife is very aware that Larry is never happier than when he’s outdoors. When he showed her the job listing for San Marcos park ranger, she told him, “That’s you.”

An old axiom about park rangers is that they protect the people from the park and the park from the people. Larry seems to have the skills and the perspective to handle either side of that equation, as well as its corollary of protecting the people from the people. When tourists and river visitors swarm San Marcos in the summer, who or what gets protected may be a tossup, although first aid, safety, and rescue missions no doubt take priority over resource preservation. But now that the seasons have changed and crowds subsided, Larry is eager to spend more time exploring San Marcos’s parks and greenspaces, seeing to the improvements and preparations that will facilitate protecting them just as well as the people who visit them.

If you chance to meet Park Ranger Larry Soza, you’ll probably be happy to find he’s a most congenial fellow—and wears an unforgettable smile that rightfully belongs in a Crest commercial. Just remember, don’t be hoisting any pick-a-nick baskets (or practicing archery in a greenspace, or carrying glass containers at the river, or littering at your next family barbecue). You don’t want him smiling at you all the way to jail—right, Boo-Boo?

- Jeanine Wilder, SMGA Outreach Committee Member

BookLetters: Science and Nature

You may want to go out for a hike or a bike ride, but with winter weather finally approaching it might be just as tempting to curl up with a book. But what book?

Consider registering for the San Marcos Public Library's BookLetters. Sign up at http://www.booksite.com/texis/scripts/bookletter/addnluser.html?sid=6478. I recommend the Science and Nature newsletter, which highlights options such as butterfly searches, vertical farming, memoirs of childhoods in nature, and crazy facts about the common cold.

So, if you can't or don't want to get outside, grab a book from the San Marcos Public Library and learn something new. Or, when the sun peeks through, take a book with you to enjoy on one of the benches in the natural areas or your own backyard.

- Maggie Wagner, SMGA President

UPDATE: Current Court Likely to Vote on Purgatory Expansion

The citizens' committee tasked with advising the Hays County commissioner's court on how to spend the $3,200,000 remaining parks bond funds has submitted their feedback to the court on 12 proposed projects. The competition is very intense and commissioners are hearing from proponents of other projects including advocates of a swimming pool in Wimberley and a shooting range east of San Marcos. We expect the current court to identify which projects will be funded.

SMGA supports a Trust for Public Land (TPL) proposal that requests only $950,000 to purchase 600 acres adjacent to Purgatory Creek Natural Area. (TPL expects to raise the approximately $8 million in additional funds for the project from U.S. Fish and Wildlife and other entities.)

Given the intense competition, we strongly encourage you to email your current slate of county commissioners. Tell them you want your parks bond money spent on the expansion of Purgatory Creek Natural Area. What a jewel this 1100 acre green space would be for our county! Of all the projects vying for park bond funds, we feel this one gets the county the most bang for the buck and best reflects the language of the bond bill passed by county voters in 2007.

Here's a related article from San Marcos Local News http://www.newstreamz.com/2010/11/11/park-wetlands-back-in-shooting-sports-request/

Ringtail Road Improvements

More kudos to PARD! You'll be glad to know that improvements to the dirt road leading to Ringtail Ridge from RR 12 should be complete by the end of next week. As you may know, the road was becoming somewhat hazardous due to washout from heavy rains and general wear and tear. We really appreciate the city coming through on these much-needed repairs.

Parks Plan Update

Earlier this month, we reported on the Parks, Recreation and Open Space master plan, which was scheduled for a vote by the city Council on November 1. We expressed concerns about the omission of critical portions of the greenbelt from maps in the plan, including connective corridors between waterways, and potential problems with the fee-in-lieu proposals added to an appendix. We also requested that certain goals be revised to emphasize preservation of natural areas that address habitat, recharge, the river, and flooding.

While a vote on the plan was delayed per the request of many of your e-mails, the Parks and Recreation Department staff agreed with most of our suggested revisions, including assurances that the fee-in-lieu process would not be changed in the near term. The council will reconsider the revised plan at a later meeting. We hope to get a copy of the revisions in advance and will keep you posted.

In general we are pleased with the plan and are very happy to see that it emphasizes trails and reflects SMGA’s Loop & Check greenbelt vision.

Meetings of Interest

Greenprint for Growth
There will be a meeting tonight, Monday, November 15, seeking updated input on Central Texas Greenprint for Growth from county stakeholders. The meeting will be from from 7:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at the San Marcos Activity Center. The greenprint is a tool developed through community input for balancing sustainable conservation goals with the infrastructure needs of our rapidly growing region. If you would like to attend a meeting, please RSVP to dmiller@envisioncentraltexas.org

Agave Class at the Nature Center
There will be a talk at the San Marcos Nature Center on Thursday, 11/18, 6:00 to 8:00 PM on agaves. Lots of varieties will be available to see and you can take home a sample. Workshop fee is $2

TCEQ Environmental Town Hall in Austin
From Texas Campaign for the Environment: If you've had problems with the TCEQ, here's your chance to speak out for change! TCEQ Sunset Town Hall Meeting, Wednesday, November 17, 7:00-8:30 PM, Bass Lecture Hall in Sid Richardson Hall, Room 2.104 at the LBJ School of Public Affairs, UT Austin. E-mail Stacy Guidry at stacy@texasenvironment.org with questions.

New Signs and Improvements at Ringtail Ridge

It's a secret no more, especially if you live at the Edge or Dakota Ranch apartments: there's another entrance to the Ringtail Ridge Natural Area on Old Ranch Road 12. It's true, you can only access the back 40 at this entrance by foot or bike, but new signage clearly marks the way for vehicles in between Community Baptist Church and Dakota Ranch apartments.
The SMGA trail crew has spent a good part of the summer controlling the invasive plants that thrived in the heavy rains and often obscured the single track treadway. Some of the trails have been named, all with historical significance, and new signage was installed courtesy of Colin Castro and Todd Derkacz. A new trail map is due out shortly from Kenny Skrobanek and the City of San Marcos.

If you've made a video of you or your friends attacking the berms via mountain bike, we'd love to see it. Also tell us if you found the improvements worthy and if something else needs to be done.

- Lance Jones