Support for Planning for Parks and Open Space

We were disappointed to read that the Hays County commissioner’s court has ended its formal association with Envision Central Texas ( We have included information below about ECT’s Greenprint for Growth to remind our readers of the value this tool has for planning in our county.

Thoughtful planning integrates input from citizens, government entities, agencies (such as ECT), and experienced professionals to help shape communities that we all want to live in and that hold the character and preserve what makes a community special.
Reflected Beauty by Shannon Brotherton, 2010 Naturescapes
 SMGA believes that planning informed by input from citizens provides an important tool for ensuring that our mission to create and conserve an interconnected system of parks and natural areas serves a broad range of needs throughout San Marcos and Hays County. We support planning for conservation of clean water and natural areas that contributes to our understanding of how to best serve residents relative to our mission.

We encourage you to speak up at government meetings, email your representatives and elected officials, and very importantly, participate in master plan processes, including the Hays County Parks, Open Space & Natural Areas Master Plan. This plan will be available for review for a 30-day period beginning sometime in July. We encourage you to support and participate in the county’s open space planning effort and will let you know when the draft is available.

About ECT and Greenprint for Growth
ECT is a non-profit organization composed of a diverse group of citizens, including neighborhood, environmental, business leaders and policy makers, who share the common goal of addressing growth sensibly with the interests of the region's citizens in mind.

The organization has no regulatory powers and does not seek to forcibly impose a plan on the region or its local governments. Instead, Envision Central Texas will work cooperatively and in partnership with all entities and individuals to help guide the region toward a common vision for the future.

The Greenprint for Growth is a proactive tool for conservation planning that involves sophisticated computer modeling which integrates geographic data with local conservation goals to help communities make strategic, objective decisions about land conservation priorities.
Two things are certain: Envision Central Texas is not a proxy for any other entity outside of Central Texas and definitely does not endorse condemning property or forcing individuals into circumstances they don’t want. ETC’s hope is that policy makers in the 5-county area can fashion ways to induce lively, livable, workable communities where everyone benefits and rights are protected. We hope the Hays County Commissioners will someday reverse their decision and use the valuable resources of ECT and participate in ECT's regional policy discussions once again.

Spring Lake Preserve and Wastewater: Where Do We Draw the Line?

Peaceful Pond by Herb Smith (taken at Spring Lake Preserve)
SMGA has had many meetings, discussions, and phone calls with elected officials and staff regarding the proposed wastewater line through Spring Lake Preserve. Thank you to everyone who has shared concerns with elected officials. We are pleased that city officials are stepping back and reviewing the alternatives (

The issue of the Sink Creek Wastewater Interceptor line is complex. In some ways it is very simply about preserving the Spring Lake Natural Area as we, the citizens of San Marcos, wanted and promised to do. We voted for a bond to help fund conservation of the 251-acre area, and agencies worked together to raise a total of $4 million for the project. Through a TPWD grant, an ADA accessible trail was recently completed, and educational kiosks, benches, a sundial, and a boardwalk were added to increase accessibility and educate visitors about the sensitivity and importance of Spring Lake Preserve.

We promised that the land would be conserved, and we should insist that it is. But there’s more to the issue than park boundaries - clearly defined lines on a map - and this is where the issue becomes less black and white and much more gray.

If a sewer line goes through Spring Lake Preserve, then what if it leaks? A slow leak could contaminate the water that fills Spring Lake and Aquarena Springs. What about bird habitat? A 12-foot wide, crushed limestone maintenance road would be required over almost all 2100 linear feet of the wastewater line through the preserve. Trees would have to be cut down and vegetation cleared. Unfortunately this vehicle path would not have the sway and flow of a good trail design, and clearing more vegetation would continue to reduce the habitat of the Golden-cheeked Warbler, the endangered species that the area is funded to protect.

What if the sewer line is installed outside the boundaries of the preserve, which would not require TPWD approval, but still within sensitive animal habitat? Property boundaries are lines on maps that are black and white and well defined. However, if you walk around the preserve, everything is much less black and white and much more gray. Water, habitat, birds, and trees do not observe the black line on the map - the preserve boundaries. It's all interconnected for them, and really is for us as well.

Wastewater lines are old and overflowing and need to be replaced and expanded. This is not an issue that the people of San Marcos can or should ignore. Faulty wastewater infrastructure is a detriment to our water quality. What's an alternative route for the sewer line? Where do we, as SMGA, draw the line as to what is and is not an acceptable path for the sewer line?

It's difficult to draw that line in an interconnected world. What we can do is connect the SMGA vision with others’ visions by building partnerships and looking at new ways of expanding the vision and the greenway. Our greenway line is going to cross with many, many other visions and city needs. We must work with, not against, cities, counties, TPWD, USFWS, land trusts, and individuals. We have communicated our concerns with officials and agencies and are pleased at the level of discussion and openness between all the parties. We will continue to strengthen these partnerships and work on this issue. In the meantime, please continue to share your opinion with city officials by emailing them at

- Maggie Hutchins-Wagner, SMGA President

What in Blazes!?

It's tough to imagine being a pioneer when this nation was just beginning and the North American landscape was cloaked in thick ancient forests. Navigation must certainly have been a real challenge, with heavy reliance on sun and stars, rivers and mountain tops. Finding one's way from holler to holler in the uplands of the Virginias required clever devices if people were going to find their way to and from homesteads. The blaze was a common solution. A modest swath of whitewash on the trunk of a tree heartened many wandering souls, who could follow each successive blaze to their destination.

Todd Derkacz and Dick McBride install blaze
The modern version, we call them blazes but alpha numeric reassurance marker is perhaps the more appropriate term, can be found in Purgatory Creek Natural Area. Each marker or blaze has two key bits of information: a letter corresponding to the first letter of the trail name and a number indicating the rough progression along the trail. This data could be very helpful to anyone needing to report trail conditions, interesting features or, as in the case of one desperate fellow injured in the Barton Creek Greenbelt in Austin, the place where emergency services should respond. Zachery Underwood, a geocacher, was able to give coordinates to emergency dispatchers after having been pinned under a boulder, but that still wasn't enough to get the quick response he would have appreciated (link below). (What's with hikers and climbers and boulders? Remember the story in the movie 127 Hours?)
Blaze D-156 in Upper Purgatory

If for some reason you find yourself being held down by one of the many boulders out in PCNA or any other emergency that would warrant a 911 call, scout the nearest trail blaze and let them know the letter or trail name and the number - help will find you quickly, and odds are you'll be glad very grateful it did.

The SMGA trail crew developed the system and, with the City of San Marcos Park Rangers and assistance of police, fire and emergency dispatcher, helped install them. Ever wonder where Critters' Hall is? Check out D-156. The trail names will appear on SMGA's upcoming trail maps.

Learn more about the rescue in Austin and the subsequent installation of blazes in this story from a June edition of the Austin-American Statesman (

- Todd Derkacz, SMGA Trailblazer Extraordinaire

Golden-Cheeked Warbler

Photo ©TPW
With all of the recent focus on Spring Lake Preserve, you may be wondering what a Golden-cheeked Warbler looks like. Here’s a photo and information about the bird from Texas Parks and Wildlife:

Adult Golden-cheeked warblers nest only in the mixed Ashe-juniper and oak woodlands in ravines and canyons of central Texas. The birds were listed as endangered in 1990 because many tall juniper and oak woodlands have been cleared to build houses, roads, and stores.

Warblers eat insects and spiders found on the leaves and bark of oaks and other trees. They use long strips of cedar bark and spider webs to build their nests. They come to Texas in March to nest and raise their young, and leave in July to spend the winter in Mexico and Central America. Females lay 3-4 eggs during nesting season.

Natural Area Attraction

My daughter is home from college looking for a job and getting reacquainted with other young adults she hasn’t seen for a while. Standing in the kitchen last week, her friend Matt mentioned how much he missed our area. Matt grew up in Beeville, a small town midway between Corpus Christi and San Antonio, and graduated from Texas State last year with a degree in music. He now directs an orchestra at a middle school north of Dallas.

I was a little surprised to hear that Matt is still job-hunting, trying to land a job in the San Marcos area. “How nice!” I observed. “Why?” It turns out that Matt became addicted to running in our natural areas, frequenting Purgatory Creek Natural Area in particular. He misses access to trails in natural settings; apparently there really aren’t any to speak of in his new town up north. 

Hikers enjoy Prospect Park - Purgatory Creek Natural Area
Matt is just the kind of young professional that the San Marcos economy needs. He’s likely to settle down in the next four or five years and start a family. We should all hope he does that here. And of course the point of sharing my conversation with Matt is to reinforce the role that a well developed parks and open space system can play in a healthy economy. Along with a good job, people like Matt seek quality of life in the form of plenty of access to open space. With help from our city leaders and people like you, SMGA plays an important role in making that access a reality.

- Ann Jensen, SMGA Board Member

Rain Helped But Didn't End the Drought

Water flows at Ringtail Ridge after heavy rains
Our local natural areas benefited from the 3" of rain that fell June 22nd, but no rain for the 30 days prior and 100˚days quickly dried the ground once again. Have you seen any butterflies? They're a rare sight these days as there's little flowering in the green spaces. A field of thistles at Ringtail Ridge that was visited by finches, bees, and butterflies in April and May is now just a burnt-out patch of ground in June.

It's important that we have these natural areas so that when it does rain, the water has a chance to collect and not just run off as it does on parking lots, streets, and rooftops. Ringtail has three tanks, or pits, that were used when it was a meat processing plant. Now rainwater collects in these areas, and since Ringtail sits on top of the Edwards Aquifer, that water contributes directly to aquifer recharge.

Karst at Prospect open to sunlight after invasive removal
Middle Purgatory, also known as Prospect Park, has two very distinct karst features that allow rainwater to run directly into the aquifer. SMGA has begun a program to remove some of the ligustrum that chokes out native plants in that area. During Bobcat Build more than 300 plants were removed and native grasses with long root systems were planted. How many of those plants will take root in this drought is unknown, but we have some excellent advisers who are helping us monitor our efforts.

Please observe warning signs about no open flames or fires, and avoid lighting so much as a match in any local natural area. Animals are suffering enough as it is without the risk of their homes burning, not to mention those human residences that border our natural areas. We hope you enjoyed a safe 4th of July without fireworks and that you appreciate both the San Marcos River and our natural areas, which contribute to the river’s continued flow.

- Lance Jones, SMGA Outreach Committee Member

Conserve Water!

Despite the rain, severe drought conditions continue. Call the city hotline 393-8360 if you see violations of current stage 2 water restrictions (

Update on Purgatory and Spring Lake Trail Maps

Purgatory Creek Natural Area
Thanks once again to cartographer Kenny Skrobanek, who has been working closely with members of SMGA’s stewardship and outreach committees, you’ll soon have a suite of sweet trail maps to guide you through the 450-acre Purgatory Creek Natural Area (PCNA). These new maps include the many new trails that our steadfast crew of trail builders has been busy designing, building, maintaining, naming, and labeling with signage and blazes (see story on blazes). To enhance your visit to PCNA, the maps also include a variety of landmarks and features, including the dam, the grotto and its overlook, creeks and seasonal wetlands, and karst features.

Given the size of the area, Kenny is working on three maps that you will be able download and print on 8.5x11 paper:
  • Lower PCNA: Hunter Road trailhead and area to the north
  • Purgatory Park – PCNA: Prospect St. trailhead and area to the southwest
  • Upper PCNA: Wonder World Dr trailhead and area to the south
Each printable file will include a fourth map that shows the entire natural area. That larger map will likely be printed poster-size for display in kiosks and in the future nature center to be built in Upper PCNA. Look for these maps later this summer or early fall.

Spring Lake Preserve
Drs. Alberto Giordano and Jim Kimmel and their Texas State geography classes, along with input from SMGA’s stewardship committee, have completed work on a beautiful and complete map of Spring Lake Preserve. The first draft map is currently a poster-size format that you’ll soon see posted at Spring Lake. We are excited to see this important project on the part of Drs. Giordano and Kimmel and their students come to completion. Lake. Once the PCNA maps are done, Kenny will be working on a 8.5x11, downloadable Spring Lake map.

For Your Calendar – July and Beyond

SMGA Events

Monday, July 11: Naturescapes Photo Contest Entry Deadline
This year the Hays County Chapter of the Texas Master Naturalists is joining the Hill Country Photography Club as cosponsor of the contest. The contest and exhibition provide an excellent vehicle for educating and increasing public awareness of the importance of preserving and maintaining our natural areas. Learn more at either of the links above.

September 10, 5-7PM: Naturescapes Photo Contest Reception
San Marcos Activity Center (learn more at links above)

October 8, 6PM: Harvest Moon FUNdRaiser
Mark your calendars for a night of festivities under the Learning Tree in the Prospect Park - Purgatory Creek Natural Area. There will be a guided hike, live music, a raffle, kids activities, T-shirts for sale and more. Come out and support the good work of SMGA!

October 15 (time TBD): Invasive Removal and Seed Planting at Purgatory Creek Natural Area

October 22, 8AM - Purgatory Creek Hike
We’ll lead a hike from Children's Park to Purgatory Creek Natural Area. Stay tuned for ridesharing plans back to our starting point at Children’s Park.

November 5 (time TBD): General Clean Up and Trail Repair (location TBD)

November 12, 10AM: Hike with Mayor Guerrero at Ringtail Ridge Natural Area

Community Events

Tuesdays/Thursdays: Movies/Concerts in the Park
For more information and schedules, visit

Thursdays: Tube with TOWN
Contact Judy Aswell, or (512) 558-1032, for information on TOWN’s 5:30PM tubing events followed by the concert in the park.

Tuesdays and Saturdays: Farmer’s Markets
The San Marcos Farmers Market Association provides two weekly market days on which to purchase fresh local produce and other goodies: Tuesday, 3-6PM, 204 S. Edward Gary and Saturday, 9AM-1PM, courthouse square in downtown San Marcos.

July 6-8, 12-14: Wild Rice Monitoring
Texas wild rice monitoring will take place July 6-8 and 12-14 in the upper two miles of the San Marcos River. You can participate from the shore or in the water. Contact Jackie Poole at, (512) 389-8019 (work), or (512) 965-9491 (cell) to get more information and sign up.

July 9: Arts Master Plan Meeting
The San Marcos Arts Commission seeks citizen input in the development of a five-year strategic plan that defines the role of the City of San Marcos in supporting the arts, and the role of the arts in accomplishing the City’s broader goals of quality of life and economic development. The next session is Saturday, July 9 at 2 p.m. at the Activity Center, 501 E. Hopkins.

July 13, 9AM: TCEQ Quarry Operations Meeting
TCEQ will conduct a stakeholder meeting on quarry operations on the Edwards Aquifer. For more information contact Ms. Settemeyer (512) 239-2588 or visit