San Marcos Greenbelt Alliance •  107 E. Hopkins St. Suite 121A; San Marcos, Texas 78666

The Loop


My Getaway: A Conversation with Brandon Smith

Brandon was born in Shreveport, Louisiana, and also did a lot of growing up in Abilene, Texas. He graduated from Texas State in 2008 with a degree from the School of Mass Communication. He learned how to tattoo in San Marcos and worked at Classic Tattoo for over 12 years.  He now owns Rise and Shine Tattoos in Kyle with his artist wife, Rebecca. The couple have two kids, Dottie, 10, and Canyon, 6. Brandon became a Hays County Master Naturalist in 2022 in the Caracara Class.

Why do you value the natural areas?

The first thing you see when you hike into the new River Recharge Natural Area is a wood and stone kiosk with a big green roof and a huge sign describing how rainwater falls on the landscape and then comes out of San Marcos Springs. You can see how the rain washes over the landscape and is collected by creeks, doleens and swallets, and then finally disappears into the ground through karst recharge features like cracks and caves. Even if you aren’t familiar with all the limestone geologic terms, it’s easy to see illustrated on the sign how water disappears into the ground and how it collects and comes together like a great underground river.

It’s the plumbing underneath all of us that connects the natural areas to the springs. I think as a community, we can begin to view and value the natural areas in the recharge zone as a utility. As much as I love all the parks for their trails and natural beauty, the natural areas serve another more important purpose of processing the city water on which we all depend.

The San Marcos River is a significant source of drinking water, and the natural areas are the first things to capture, store, and filter the water that eventually comes out of the springs and into over a million peoples’ homes. It’s like the signs say at River Recharge; it’s where water goes in that water comes out.

It’s hard to overstate, then, how important these areas are to us as a fast-growing Central Texas community. I love taking my children to the river and being immersed in nature.  It’s important to me that people have these opportunities and access to quality green spaces and that the river still flows. Camping, fishing and being outdoors have always been passions of mine and I love to share them with people. I feel very fortunate to get to live in a place where the parks and river literally come together.

Who or what most influenced your view of the natural world?

Being a kid of the ‘90s, I was partially raised by the TV. Saturday morning cartoons like GI Joe and Ninja Turtles would always have regular commercials followed by Public Service Announcements: “Always cut your six pack holders up before you throw them away,” says Leonardo, slicing up a ring with a katana, or “Leave the sink off while you brush your teeth,” says another.  It’s funny, but I still remember those announcements to this day. In this I’d have to also give a special shout out to Captain Planet.

The Boy Scouts also gave me great opportunities to get into more high adventure outdoor activities like rock climbing and backpacking, and that all really carried over into my years after college once I (sort of) settled down. I also became a Hays County Master Naturalist in 2022, and that program was great. It really helped me fill in the pieces for how our Hill Country ecosystem operates.

Trail Crew has had a big influence on me, too. We work with the land and source local materials to build trails and features that help water get off the walkways and into the ground where it belongs. Volunteering these past few years on the crew has also given me the opportunity to talk with many knowledgeable people like botanists, fish and wildlife scientists, and geologists, just to name a few. It’s been a great learning opportunity spending time in the parks and natural spaces and just doing trail work. I highly recommend it to anyone who has time. It’s a good way to get outdoors, meet folks in the community and do something constructive for others.

What is your favorite trail? What do you like about it?

To be honest, it’s the new trail we’re working on most Thursdays, New Paraiso or Upper Paraiso. It’s about 1.75 miles long, starts in a creek and traverses up and down to a cool head cut area with a good long climb in between. It’s going to be a black diamond mountain biking trail for sure but also a great hike— very technical with a few creek crossings and limestone shelves. There are a couple of Champion Oaks you can see, and an old growth persimmon stand. It’s also a good area to find white lace cactus and others. It’ll take the trail user pretty high up in the Purgatory watershed.

What do you most enjoy doing when you visit the Greenbelt?

If we aren’t building anything or clearing anything for SMGA, I like to get my head right, and just stroll through the NA’s.  I like having a sketch book and trying to sketch prickly pears or just doodling, “cactus practice” I call it. The trick is to go slow. It’s fun to see what’s in season and what’s not, trying to learn the blooms before they’re gone, surfing the green wave of plant succession. I do a lot of iNaturalist and am currently trying to get better at plant ID and taxonomy.

What recommendations would you give new users of the trail?

Take water and a picture of the map. Mind your hiking essentials and be aware of the weather. We just installed a few new benches in Spring Lake Natural Area, so maybe checkout Buckeye for a nice new place to kick up your feet or see the brand-new kiosk we built in River Recharge.

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