Volunteers Needed

The San Marcos Greenbelt Alliance needs volunteers to help with upcoming spring booth events. We will be celebrating spring at the Earth Day Celebration at Aquarena Center, Saturday, April 27, and The Texas Green Home & Living Show at San Marcos Conference Center, Saturday, May 11. Booths will be outdoors and each event will have two-hour shifts throughout the day. It's a great opportunity to meet new people, share your enjoyment of our city's natural areas, and to spread the word about SMGA. To volunteer or for more information, email SMGA at alliance@smgreenbelt.org.

Vision San Marcos

Join the community in celebrating the approval of the Vision San Marcos: A River Runs Through Us. San Marcos Comprehensive Plan on April 24 at 6 pm at the Texas Music Theater. There will be brief presentations, food, and music.

Whether you're able to attend or not, be sure to visit  www.sanmarcostx.gov/vision to look at the beautiful yellow and green dashed lines connecting the San Marcos parks and natural areas. It is a beautiful vision, and thank you to all of those you continue to support this vision of an interconnected system of parks and natural areas for this and future generations in San Marcos.

Thank you Lions Club

SMGA wants to extend a great big thank you to the Lions Club for their recent donation to SMGA. This funding will help us continue our stewardship activities in the San Marcos natural areas.
Thank you!

Birding hike yields something different

   Fifteen curious birders rose early on Sunday morning, April 7th, to observe one of the best birding areas in San Marcos, Texas.  Stephen Ramirez leads the monthly walks on the first Saturday of each month (this hike being an exception) through the natural areas or along the San Marcos River or Spring Lake.
    An exciting find was the 10-inch rough green snake seen coursing through the small tree near the pond at the foot of the hill next to Lime Kiln road.  The small snake provided photo opportunities for those with cameras.
Stephen talks about the birds we might see.

The 2.6 mile walk lasted two-and-a-half hours and yielded 15 species of birds.
The list of birds seen included:
Great Egret
Solitary Sandpiper
Chimney Swift
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher
White-eyed Vireo
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Chipping Sparrow
Clay-colored Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Brown-headed Cowbird
White-winged Dove
Whistling Ducks
Yellow-rumped Warblers

More photos at:   http://www.flickr.com/photos/smga/sets/72157633196717084/

Working on the Trails

The volunteer trail crew has been hard at work on several projects. In January, they worked on a re-route of the Grey Fox Trail in the northern end of the Spring Lake Natural area. We hope to connect it to a new trail off of North LBJ between the Hillside Ranch Apartments under construction and the Elm Hill Court neighborhood. Work will start up again after the Golden-cheeked Warbler nesting season ends.

The crew is working on the Ovid Trail in the lower Purgatory Creek Natural Area. This was formerly a renegade trail that was badly designed.  It's an ongoing project, but Bobcat Build pulled the crew away for some trail maintenance in Prospect Park.  The crew will also be working on maintenance at the Ringtail Ridge Natural Area.

If you'd like to help build and maintain our local trails, please go to http://smgreenbelt.org/VolunteerSMGA.htm.  The trail crew meets every Thursday morning.  We will send you some learning materials and let you know every Wednesday evening where we will meet on the following Thursday.

Trail Attachment, Trail Changes

SMGA has an agreement with the the city to do natural surface trail construction, reconstruction and maintenance. It's a big job and with spring in full force we will be jumping to keep up.
The city and SMGA get questions from users about why and how we do what we do. There are many factors to consider for each trail, far too many to mention here so let us just name a few.
  • The city has one full park ranger for the entire city and no land manager trained in ecology and passive recreation.
  • Some of the trails that exist now were unauthorized trails created with a single interest in mind 
  • Some of the trails are not trails at all but jeep tracks used by utility vehicles for different kinds of service and maintenance
  • The funding for the purchase of these natural areas comes primarily from federal and state agencies with the stipulation that endangered species habitat and watershed protections are maintained. Passive recreation is a lesser priority but encouraged where possible.
  • Trail design involves a little science, art and practice. Several of us are trained in design and construction, others have years of experience.

But let's take a read of a recent example of an email exchange with a trail user who appreciates the beautiful places while apparently riding a mountain bike. Her reference is to a section we rerouted during Bobcat Build.

To SMGA:   Hi. I was riding prospect/purgatory about a week ago and a small section of the trail on Limbo loop was blocked and rerouted. I've never seen the trail change like that, so I'm curious why. It used to be a pretty cool section. Thanks!
From SMGA:   Indeed it was a pretty cool section. When we laid it out we were proud of what we were able to do. That was several years ago.  Since then we've noticed that the rocks in place were not remaining stable which is really no surprise given that oak trees don't remain static either. And unfortunately the rocks begin to rock and cut into the roots of that fine old tree.  That and the added stress of drought and the wear of the bark from folks playing on and around the tree warranted a change.
We've noticed how attached people become to trails even though some of them were poorly conceived or in a few cases not that interesting. In this case our original was more interesting and fun. I hope you can adjust and forgive us as we try to balance many interests in the pursuit of stewardship for these cool places.
And thanks for asking.
Let us know if you can help out. We're an all volunteer bunch who care a lot about these natural places...t.o.d.
Response to SMGA:    Hi Todd. Thanks for the detailed reply. It makes me less bummed about that stretch of trail. I definitely do get attached! I really appreciate what ya'll do. The Greenbelt is one of the coolest things about San Marcos.

TOWN Hikes

If you are of the female gender and enjoy the great outdoors The Texas Outdoors Woman Network (TOWN) is a great group to consider being part of. TOWN is sponsored by Texas Parks and Wildlife and there are approximately 14 chapters around the state. All chapter members are welcome and encouraged to join in on any of the other chapter's activities and outings. The TOWN mission is simply to go outdoors and have fun. Outings and activities include all things outdoors such as camping, hiking, kayaking, biking, bird watching, backpacking, fishing, star gazing, snorkeling, and much more. To learn more see www.townsanmarcos.org

The San Marcos TOWN enjoys the many green spaces around the area with weekly nature hikes. If you are interested in receiving hike notices email Judy at judya@grandecom.net. The group currently hikes at 9am on Monday and 5:30pm on Thursdays.

Judy Aswell
TOWN Coordinator
512 558 1032 c

When Plants Attack!

SMGA is attacking several plants that are a threat to our native species in order to keep the habitat open for our native trees, shrubs and wildflowers. By controlling invasives such as Ligustrum, loquat, chinaberry, tree of heaven, bastard cabbage, redtip photinia, nandina,
blessed milk thistle and maltese star thistle, room is available for natives such as bluebonnets and other wildflowers, turk's cap, agarita, buckeye, and establishment of new young oaks of many species as well as our other native trees and shrubs.

Bobcat Build students tackle projects at Prospect Park

   In the third year of concerted effort Greenbelt Alliance members led 25 Texas State students on a variety of projects aimed at improving water conservation and recreation at Prospect Park March 23

Students clear ligustrum from the karst area
. Projects included improving the view sheds at both Inge's and Metz benches that command vistas of the park.  Water bars to shed heavy rains off the trail were installed on Limbo Loop and at the trail head on Prospect Street.  Five new Anacua trees were planted along Virgil's trail as it enters the meadow.  One of the most visible projects involved cutting and removing ligustrum, an invasive small tree that shuts out all other plants and is non-native. This was followed with a team that seeded native grasses and wildflowers.
   The tasking, organization, tool issue and  priority listing were accomplished by Todd Derkacz and Charles O'Neil.
   Bobcat Build student volunteers worked at Purgatory Creek natural area and Ringtail Ridge in previous years. SMGA has  concentrated student efforts during the last three years on the thirty plus acres of Prospect Park.
   As is true every year there were more tasks than available volunteers and supervisors.
   Trail improvements remained a priority and several re-routes and installation of water bars were critical for the continued erosion control of the natural area.  Mark and Ben Taylor led teams working on these critical tasks.  Not surprising these were among the most labor intensive jobs requiring moving crushed limestone in heavy wheelbarrows to the specific sites.  Paul Murray headed up the team shoveling and tamping down the limestone that would divert future heavy rains off trail and into the soil.
   The project requiring the most volunteers was removing the ligustrum.  While this has been an on-going project there remains much still to do but a noticeable improvement has been accomplished.  Donna Browning and Richard McBride chainsawed the multi-trunked trees before the students arrived.  Melani Howard and Mike Baugh handled the task of carefully applying herbicide to the cut stumps.
   Ligustrum or ligustrum lucidum spreads easily and is very hardy in the Hill Country soils.  Over time it crowds out the native plants and diverts rainwater from entering the aquifer through the karst features prominent along Virgil's trail. Several SMGA members including Kenny Skrobanek worked with the students using lopers to cut the downed trees into smaller pieces and spreading them around the ground.
Todd Derkacz talks after lunch
   Jo Ellen Korthals lead a group of students in seeding the disturbed bare ground with either native Texas grasses or wildflowers depending on location and germination probability.  This is the positive side of habitat restoration to the negative chore of invasive removal.
   Restoration from former ranch land to a more native Texas landscape is one of the goals behind water conservation, recreation and connectivity.  Tree planting that will eventually provide shade along the trail was included in the task list.  Five anacua trees were planted and a Mexican plum.  Previously planted bois d'arc trees and a bur oak were all mulched and watered.
  The success of many of these projects become evident years in the future but the erosion control efforts are tested with the next big rainfall.  The students and SMGA members enjoy the natural areas and want everyone to share in the benefits.

Photo Hike Sunday at Ringtail Ridge

2010 photo
Spring is busting out all over and the recent rains have "greened-up" the natural areas.  Add in the birds and the bees and the subjects for photo essays just abound.  Still a little leery about getting up close and personal with the bees and blooms?  This Sunday, April 7th,  the Hill Country Photography Club and the Hays County Master Naturalists will lead a walk through Ringtail Ridge from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. 

The MN will help you identify the colorful blooms and the Photography Club members will help answer questions about different options available with these new cameras.  It is also an opportunity to get started on the 9th Annual Naturescapes photography contest sponsored by these two organizations.

Ringtail Ridge is 45 acres of trails and wooded areas off Old Ranch Road 12 between Crestview Shopping Center and Dakota Ranch Apartments.  More information is available http://www.smgreenbelt.org/SMNaturalAreas.htm#Ringtail