The dream began in 1998 when heavy equipment started scrapping the landscape at the end of Prospect Street, with plans for a development of condominiums. Several forward-thinking individuals worked with the city council to create a preserve of about 9 acres. This sanctuary, dubbed Prospect Park, sits on a porous section of the Edwards Aquifer with prominent karst features, limestone through which rainwater flows into the ground. Ashe juniper groves, grassland meadows, ephemeral wetlands and oak mottes co-exist there. Benches and interpretive signs are located along the trail. A large compass and opposite, The Learning Tree, provide seating and education opportunities in the lower meadow.
Chris North, Sherwood Bishop, Linda Keese, Jo Ellen Korthals. Sheila Torres-Blank, Todd Derkacz, and Diane Wassenich worked with the city to set aside land that would be left natural as parkland whose purpose was protecting the karst features. The San Marcos Greenbelt Alliance was formed with the help of the National Park Service’s Rivers and Trails division. The plan was to grow the natural areas as a loop and check of greenspaces around the city, with the check being the Blanco River.
What started as 9 acres in one natural area has grown over 20 years to six natural areas encompassing more than 2,000 acres. These natural areas provide for flood mitigation, with two of the county’s five flood control dams located on or near them. Purgatory, Sessom and Sink Creeks flow through these areas and help to protect the community when flash flooding occurs with heavy rainfall.
As development of the Hill Country continues, the natural areas provide a place for wild animals to live among us. These acres also offer an escape for humans to hike, run and mountain bike on more than 22 miles of trails, with more being added each year. The natural areas have even become a tourist draw, with many of the trail head parking lots filling up quickly in the spring and fall.
The 20th annual meeting of the San Marcos Greenbelt Alliance included a business meeting with new board members Dr. Jason Julian and Andy Nance replacing outgoing members Toby Hooper and Mark Taylor. The Volunteer of the Year award went to Joel Barks, while the hiking stick award to an outside organization went to Justin Bates, representing the 20-year association with the NPS. Todd Derkacz, was presented the first-ever Trail Blazer award for his 20 years of leading the organization as president for two terms and as trail crew leader.
Guest speaker at the 20th anniversary meeting was Lauren Huffman, state director of the Nature Conservancy in Texas and a founding director of the Conservancy’s North America Cities program, which helps cities integrate natural infrastructure into local planning and development. Huffman emphasized how urbanization is putting tremendous pressure on our resources. She said, “We are at a critical time where choices we make now will greatly affect natural resources of the future. Texas is like a laboratory for global climate events as things are happening very quickly in our state: we see severe chronic droughts book ended by historic flooding. The partnerships between public, private and governmental agencies are key to successful conservation.”
The meeting was well attended with approximately 100 members in attendance. As always, the Bluebonnet Lions provided refreshments, and a special cake was ordered to commemorate the event.