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What’s the latest on the 100-mile trail connecting Austin to San Antonio?

CENTRAL TEXAS (KXAN) — It’s no surprise Central Texans love their outdoor recreation spaces. In just several years’ time, residents and visitors will be able to take a jaunt between Austin and San Antonio, sans vehicles.

What is the Great Springs Project?

The Great Springs Project is a local nonprofit that launched its endeavors more than two years ago. Under its plan, the organization will create a 100-mile trail system by 2036 that will link the two cities together, along with four springs: Barton, Comal, San Marcos and San Antonio springs.

“You’ll be able to hike or bike basically from the Alamo to the Capitol,” said Deborah Morin, co-founder and board president of the Great Springs Project, in a February 2021 interview with KXAN.

In the two-and-a-half years since, the nonprofit has developed a steering committee comprising community partners, nonprofits and representatives from 10 different cities, four counties and three river authorities.

During that time, the organization has identified alignments for the planned 100-mile system. About one-third of the system will use existing trails, one-third will be reliant on trails already in the process of being developed and a final third of land is in the midst of work with private landowners to acquire trail right-of-way access.

The Great Springs Project will create a 100-mile trail system by 2036 that will link the two cities together, along with four springs: Barton, Comal, San Marcos and San Antonio springs. (Courtesy: Great Springs Project)

Similarly, the group has looked into each of the 1,400 land parcels within the 100-mile work corridor, located in the recharge zone of the Edwards Aquifer. Analyzing each parcel, the group determined the conservation opportunities available for that land, any endangered or protected species dwelling there, as well as any conservation easements or other resources for private properties within the corridor.

“This is 10 or 15 years of work, working with the landowners, working on the parcels and then developing the trail and getting trail on the ground by 2036,” said Garry Merritt, CEO of Great Springs Project.

What are the environmental, economic benefits of the Great Springs Project?

As the Central Texas region has grown dramatically, demand on land and available natural resources has strained area water supplies and conservation efforts. It’s one of the main reasons Merritt said this project is so critical.

“The heartbeat of Central Texas and the heartbeat of the Hill Country is the Edwards Aquifer. And it is one of the incredible ecological gifts in the world,” he said. “Every one of these communities — from Austin, San Marcos, New Braunfels, San Antonio and the communities in between — they became communities because water was coming out of the ground in the right places.”

The focus of the Great Springs Project, besides linking the two major metro areas, is to draw attention to the recharge zone of the Edwards Aquifer and highlight for trail users the environmental, economic and personal benefits of conservation efforts.

“We want to showcase those over a particular place, again, to bring attention to why the Edwards Aquifer is important to all of us Texans,” he said. “Whether you get your drinking water from there or not, it’s the heartbeat of Central Texas.”

During an April 2022 trails plan analysis, Great Springs Project collaborated with Alta Planning + Design to help facilitate an economic benefits study. The study analyzed similar trail systems in other parts of the country and looked at dollars brought in related to the trail — from people staying in hotels, shopping or dining locally as well as renting bikes, e-bikes and other recreational tools.

“We, through some degree of certainty, estimate that we’ll be able to create $59 million in economic benefits for the region annually through the creation of the trail,” said Emma Lindrose-Siegel, chief development officer with Great Springs Project. “So we are anticipating this will be an economic driver for the area.”

What’s next for the Great Springs Project?

Over the next several years, Merritt said the organization will continue its conservation efforts in collaboration with private landowners to help bring more land into conservation.

For landowners interested in selling their property along the corridor, he said the group will work with a conservation buyer or investor, as well as city or county leaders who are interested in purchasing that land for preservation. With private landowners who aren’t looking to sell, those possibilities could include conservation easements and outcomes.

Alongside land acquisition and conservation efforts, Great Springs Project is working to construct between five to seven miles’ worth of trail on the ground each year, as well as move up to 5,000 acres of land each year into preservation.

In an effort to drum up excitement for the trail system, Great Springs Project will host its first half-marathon trails race on Oct. 14 in San Marcos, around the Purgatory Creek Natural Area. It’ll mark the first in a series of trail races the organization will host, as more miles of trail come online.

While they are excited to showcase the new mileage added to the system, these investments aren’t just short-term conservation efforts, both Merritt and Lindrose-Siegel said. They signify investments into the future longevity and prosperity of this region and its natural beauty, for generations to come.

That motivation is all the more exemplified, Lindrose-Siegel said, by raising two young children as the organization is actively developing a project they will one day benefit from.

“I really see my son growing as we’re laying trail on the ground, and I think about those early moments with him, and how we’re building something that current and future generations of Austinites and Texans and San Antonioans and other community members in the region are going to be using and integrating into their daily lives,” she said. “Because recreating outdoors and access to green space and park space is really essential to the quality of life that we have here in Central Texas.”

https://www.kxan.com/news/texas/whats-the-latest-on-the-100-mile-trail-connecting-austin-to-san-antonio/ What’s the latest on the 100-mile trail connecting Austin to San Antonio?

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