Big Issues on Table at Community Open House: Zoning Strategies, Park Rules and LDC

San Marcos Greenbelt Alliance encourages its followers to attend this event and voice your thoughts on these important topics. From the City of San Marcos:
San Marcos residents, organizations and interest groups will have the chance to voice their opinions on Interim Zoning Strategies, Park Rules and Land Development Code/ Smart Code changes at a day-long, come and go open house on Wednesday, April 18, 10 am - 7 pm at the Activity Center. The open house will focus on:
1. Developing Zoning Strategies—especially where multi-family zoning is appropriate in San Marcos--over the next several months while the new Comprehensive Plan is being developed?
2. What park rules should the City Council adopt to improve safety, enjoyment and environmental protection at City of San Marcos parks and natural areas? Should alcohol be allowed?
3. What amendments to the Land Development Code, San Marcos SmartCode and Architectural Standards should be considered by Planning & Zoning and the City Council?
See more...

Prospect Park Gets Some Good Advice

Botanist and neighbor, Minnette Marr, took members of the San Marcos Greenbelt Alliance on a walking tour of Prospect Park, a 45 acre section of Purgatory Creek Natural Area, to discuss plant diversity, invasives, and water quality. This is the third time she has donated her expertise to advising the membership the direction we need to go.

Minnette Marr talks about the importance
of opening up the area around the karst features.
The two-hour hike consisted of progress made since last year's Bobcat Build when Inge's Bench and Metz Bench were opened and viewsheds were established for visitors. The small meadow with prickly pear cactus were examined for evidence of native grasses taking hold. Unfortunately, no new grasses had established themselves.

Much of the ligustrum (glossy privet) was cut down and opened up new areas around the two karst features. A new karst feature was located following the 6+" rain of January 25th, 2012. More light into the area allows native plants and grasses to take hold and send more rainwater into the Edward's Aquifer.

Future rains will also be the focus of projects for this year's Bobcat Build as new water bars will be constructed over the ADA trail and divert the flow from the trail to the ground. Repairs from the beneficial rains will also encourage more retention of the water and less run-off.

The wetlands area had three active ponds that are graced with numerous wildflower borders. Bluebonnets once again are prominent in the meadows that Limbo Loop and Virgil's Trail transverse. Further evidence can be found at Steve's Bench and bur oak planted in his memory.
Marilyn Brister checks out the Ashe juniper 
surrounded by coral honeysuckle, hackberry, 
prickly pear, and other plant.
A row of bois d'arc or osage orange trees follow the trail to the Learning Tree. It looks promising that the seven trees will take hold and provide shade from the summer sun. An ashe juniper tree is surrounded by a dozen different plants and adds to the knowledge database.

Further down the trail Mexican plum trees were planted to encourage birds and small mammals to feed on the fruit of the tree. Work on the meadow kiosk and two wildlife viewing stands were also discussed in the trail visit. 

Prospect Park, as part of the larger 463 acres of Purgatory Creek Natural Area, is a microcosm of what is natural and what is introduced into the landscape. Previous use as a grazing area for cattle and goats and the use of invasive species as landscape plantings farther up the watershed cause issues and requires thoughtful resolution. The opportunity presented by having a large workforce available, even if just for a day, makes an impact for years to come. We are fortunate to have the advice and guidance of a local resident to preserve these areas and provide learning opportunities for future generations. The University program allows for strong backs and young spirits to enjoy community service.

Bobcat Build 2012 Tackles Prospect Park

The San Marcos Greenbelt Alliance and Texas State University partnered for the 10th Bobcat Build. SMGA participated with the University for most of the community service annual events. This year, like last, was centered at Prospect Park, a connector greenspace in the larger 463 acres Purgatory Creek natural area.

John Garcia and Ken Gees attach the wetlands interpretive sign.

An ambitious project list was compiled in the weeks leading up to the SMGA and Bobcat Build partnership. Advice was sought from Minnette Marr a local botanist and early supporter of the Greenbelt Alliance. Stewardship committee members walked the trails and discussed where best to put the efforts of more than fifty students and SMGA members. "I'm always a little worried when we plan these things - will the work be too much, too complicated, but our SMGA trail crew leaders knew just what to do, the Bobcats got right to work and in what seemed like a pretty short time an amazing amount of really good work was completed," said Todd Derkacz, SMGA president. He continued by listing the accomplishments, "Erosion problems were solved, brush cut up and laid as ground cover, interpretive panels put back in place, sign posts installed, invasive plants removed and natives planted and tended - it's very gratifying to see what can happen with good people working together."

Charles O'Neil worked with a team of students on Virgil's Trail. "On the upper part pf the trail we did a lot of work to manage the effects of rainfall. The students created water bars and cleared some culverts. They moved a lot of gravel!"

"The students in my group were extremely hard working as were all of the individuals there. When they return to Prospect they will look at it through different eyes, as do all of us with sweat equity!" said JoEllen Korthals. She lead a group clearing the fence line between the wetlands ponds and the meadow. Several invasive or aggressive plants had overgrown the fence line and anacua trees.
Mark Taylor pushes limestone as the crew loads more wheelbarrows.

It was just about fixing and cleaning up. A team of five students lead by Leah Laszewski started patches of native grasses in the meadow across from the Learning Tree. "The Bobcat seeding crew were fantastic. They cleared areas of weeds and less desirable grasses to plant Little Blue Stem and Yellow Indian grass seed all through the meadow near the learning tree. They also found a few spots that seemed wet enough to support some Switchgrass and added a bit here and there. A few previously planted trees were caged and a couple of new ones added along the trail. Their enthusiasm was terrific and everyone said they plan to come back and see what grows. Near the end of the morning, several of the guys still had the energy to take a wheelbarrow up to the trailhead for a big load of mulch to put around Steve's Bur Oak, which looks very healthy this spring. These young people accomplished a ton of work with a joyful atttitude in spite of ants, heat and heavy lifting. The willingness to work hard and the spirit of cooperation was a real pleasure to experience and I would hope it continues for a very long time."

After all the hard work time for photos and pizza.
Professor Susan Hanson who participated in many of these projects said, "I am extremely proud of the students who came out for Bobcat Build. We read and talk about the natural world in my class, but working on the Greenbelt gives them the satisfaction of actually doing something for the earth. What we accomplish in working on the trails is important, but what gratifies me the most is having one of the students say how rewarding it was to labor alongside a member of the SMGA, or ask how to volunteer at other times of the year. After the event, they definitely feel a greater sense of connection to the Greenbelt and, by extension, to other sensitive landscapes in our community."

GEAA Annual Memership Renewal Time

It is time to renew membership with the Greater Edwards Aquifer Alliance, and this year the Steve and Marty Hixon Family Foundation has pledged to match any contribution of $200 or more with your renewal for the following reasons:

1. We have children and grandchildren who are dependent on the Edwards Aquifer.

2. The population of Texas is projected to increase by 185% by 2050 bringing with it increased water demands and destruction of the environment critical to replenishment of the Edwards Aquifer.

3. Our climate is changing, regardless of why, and will impact ground water as well as the water replenishing the Edwards Aquifer.

4. This organization, more than any other, is protecting our future quality of life. Without water, all other causes are irrelevant.

5. Protecting our water source is the moral thing to do.
If these reasons resonate with you, please renew your membership at

Trail Closures During Golden-cheeked Warblers' Nesting Season

Map Courtesy of Austin-American Statesman
From the 3/16/12 article in the Austin-American Statesman by Ciara O'Rouke:
SAN MARCOS — Intent on protecting the tiny endangered songbird that nests only in Central Texas, the City of San Marcos is temporarily closing a handful of trails while the golden-cheeked warblers lay their eggs.
Included on the federal endangered species list since 1990, the birds fly into Texas in March to nest and raise their young in thickets of oaks and juniper trees that plague some Central Texans with cedar fever.
The maligned ashe juniper is among trees that have been cleared to build homes, businesses and roads. Some of the bird's habitat has also been cleared to grow crops and grass for livestock.
With yellow cheeks and black markings over their eyes, adult warblers can grow as large as about 4 1/2 inches. Toward summer, they'll fly south to spend the winter foraging for insects and spiders in Mexico and Central America, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department reports.
The closed trails in the northwest sections of Spring Lake Natural Area and Purgatory Creek are scheduled to reopen on June 1.
Christopher Murray, land steward for Baker Sanctuary, a 690-acre preserve for golden-cheeked warblers in northern Travis County, said that though the warbler is found in several Texas counties — 39 by U.S. Fish and Wildlife's count, but Murray said 25 is more likely now — the San Marcos and Austin areas are among the central spots where the birds breed.
Birds that breed there are more likely to produce fledglings, young warblers that don't come back to the nest but are still dependent on their parents.
The warbler's total population is hard to track, he said, and as many as 40,000 of the birds are estimated to exist, he said. An estimated 120 warblers breed at Baker Sanctuary, Murray said, with others found throughout the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve, a network of land scattered throughout Travis County.
Emma Long Metropolitan Park in Austin is one hiker-friendly destination for birdwatchers, he said. "People come from different countries to see this bird," Murray said. "This is the only place in the world you can see it nest."
Other warbler haunts include the Balcones Canyonlands, Lower Rio Grande Valley and Santa Ana national wildlife refuges, according to U.S. Fish and Wildlife.
Contact Ciara O'Rourke 
at 512-392-8750

Beware the Stinging Nettle!

Stinging Nettle, Urtica dioica L
The wildflowers are in their full glory following all the rain we've experienced this Spring. There is one plant to be wary and avoid contact. The stinging nettle is abundant this year in shade and part-shade areas reaching 2-3 feet in height. Long pants might be a good idea as they've been seen on several of the trails including Malacoda in the Purgatory Creek Natural Area.

According to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower center Stinging Nettle or Urtica dioica L is "A 4-angled stem, covered with many bristly, stinging hairs, has slender, branching, feathery clusters of minute greenish flowers in the leaf axils. Flowers are unisexual, with either male or female on a given plant, or on same plant with males in upper leaf axils, females lower.

Highly irritating to the skin, this Nettle should not be handled. However, the very young shoots and top leaves may be cooked and served as greens or used in soups and stews. The family and genus names come from the Latin uro (meaning "I burn").

And it does burn! On-line research reveals the properties of the hairy fibers contain three chemicals one of which is a histamine which in some people can raise welts. Treatment includes any anti-itch creams and lotions. suggests aloe vera or a baking soda paste.

The plants are also beneficial as larval food for the Red Admiral and Question Mark butterflies. The nettle is also used as a tea and a medicine. There are even "fun facts" about the stinging nettle plant at Can you believe the English even have a nettle eating contest? According to Wikipedia, in Dorset, England thousands come to watch the competition. Who said nature is dull?

City Parks Rules Change for Review May 1

There is a lot of buzz recently about the proposed change in City of San Marcos park rules to prohibit the public consumption of alchohol, but there are many more aspects to the proposed change, which is now being voted on at the May 1st City Council meeting. Here is a sum-up of the proposed changes from the San Marcos Mercury (3/20/12).
An ordinance approved on the first of two votes Tuesday night creates these changes to rules for San Marcos parks and natural areas:
  • Makes the consumption or display of alcoholic beverages on park land prohibited. Provides for access and egress to the river with a “no open container” rule;
  • Includes refined definitions for the codes;
  • Makes provisions of all park codes apply in Natural areas and Green Spaces owned by the City;
  • Includes disruptive conduct provisions for programs approved by the department operating on city parks areas;
  • Increases the minimum fine amount for littering in the San Marcos River;
  • Prohibits smoking and tobacco products in play areas and athletic fields;
  • Clears up miscellaneous provisions on posting of temporary restrictions;
  • Authorizes the Park Director to establish rules for use of BBQ pits;
  • Prohibits the use of Styrofoam materials in the parks and river;
  • Adds the possession of certain fishing spears and gigs and allows parks programming exemptions;
  • Prohibits the possession of alcohol on any dam owned by the city;
  • Requires the securing of lids and covers to containers in the San Marcos River

Parks And Public Lands to be Used as 21st Century Education Centers

A press release from the Department of the Interior earlier this year, announced that Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan formed a new agreement to build, develop and formalize programs that use national parks, national wildlife refuges and other public lands as classrooms and catalysts for 21st century education – designed to benefit teachers, students and parents in rural America and urban classrooms alike. The initiative will help build skills among students in the growing outdoor economy.

The Memorandum of Understanding signed by Secretary Salazar and Secretary Duncan enables the Department of the Interior and the Department of Education to work together in new and more effective ways to connect young Americans to the outdoors, improve environmental literacy, support experiential learning outside the classroom, and form partnerships at the local level to learn from and conserve public lands.

Additionally, the agreement will help implement the President’s goals for the Department of Education by investing in the education necessary to build a workforce with skills to succeed in the conservation and outdoor recreation economy and to develop careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).
See the entire press release at the Department of the Interior's website.

What Were You Vandals Thinking?

This Editorial was submitted to the San Marcos Mercury in the form of a letter to the person or people who destroyed a trail marker last month in the Purgatory Creek Natural Area.
Vandalism on a new trail marker.
When you took an axe or more likely a knife and whittled away at the trail marker last Monday afternoon? What did you benefit or gain from this repressed aggression against an inanimate object?

You went on to destroy several persimmon trees that were safely off the trail and causing no harm to safe passage along one of San Marcos most beautiful natural areas, Purgatory Creek.

Let me tell you who you hurt with your action. A college student carefully and precisely routed the four sides of the post with information. The distance in three directions along the trail that directed people to a wonderful geologic force of nature, The Grotto. The fourth side gave credit to the people in the community who made the sign possible. The Bluebonnet Lions club is a group that works tirelessly to benefit the community and then returns their profits to organizations that further enhance the community.

The Greenbelt Alliance spent more than an hour planting the post in Hill Country soil that is mostly rock. When you came back, and that’s how we know the time you were there, you tried to remove the post. Guess you weren’t as strong as you thought you were. There’s a secret you’d learn if you stayed in school.

You also hurt the bikers, dog walkers, runners, and hikers in the community who are out to enjoy some fresh air and get some exercise in the effort.

The City of San Marcos and other entities purchased this property and others like it to benefit you and those younger than you in an effort to get you outdoors, observe what it real, smell what is in the air, and experience something that is not enclosed on six sides.

I doubt if you are reading this but I hope that your father or mother are and that they recognize you for your willful destruction and take action.

There are many opportunities for you and some of them start right here. It’s time to open your eyes, your ears, your nose and get outside and take advantage of what is being provided for you by the community where you live. There’s a lot to learn and who knows you might even go on in life with a greater appreciation of what is.

-Lance Jones, San Marcos Resident and regular trail-crew volunteer

Naturescapes 2012

Texas Bluebonnet, 
Lupinus texensis, 
By: Bejat McCracken, 
Naturescapes 2009
Hill Country Photography Club will be sponsoring the Naturescapes Photography Contest again in 2012. Please check for more information, probably in the April-May timeframe.