Tucked away at the corner of Loop 1604 and Judson Road is a 31-acre oasis that’s home to 147 plant and 74 animal species.
Located near a major highway, a limestone quarry, and a concrete company, the Bulverde Oaks Nature Preserve is a “little island” amid encroaching development, said Gail Gallegos, executive director of Green Spaces Alliance of South Texas (GSA), the nonprofit that owns the land. As one of the only large, ecologically diverse green spaces in the area, the preserve is a special ecosystem that provides protection for all its natural inhabitants.
A construction materials company gave GSA the parcel of land in 2010, and Gallegos and her team immediately saw the value in preserving it as a sanctuary for local wildlife and native plants. The organization recently opened the site to the public for monthly guided nature hikes, Gallegos said, but the mission behind Bulverde Oaks remains focused on the land’s plant and animal life.
“We want to have (Bulverde Oaks) as a nature preserve, first and foremost. The natural resources are what guide what development we do on the property,” she said. “Humans are the secondary factor. They’re visitors that come out to see and learn about the wildlife.”
In 2014, the alliance got to work enhancing the existing flora and fauna’s habitat.
Volunteers cleaned the creekways, re-seeded the overgrazed grass, and built trails. Eventually, the GSA created a “foster home for bees” in an old corral and began improvements on the nearby stock pond that is home to a variety of waterfowl.
The work didn’t stop there. Over time, GSA erected a bird blind so visitors could view wildlife without disturbing it, a bat house that can accommodate 300-400 bats, and a “petite pollinator prairie” for resident bees and other pollinators passing through. Gallegos said her team plans to add milkweed to the prairie as a food source for monarch butterflies, as San Antonio is a key stop on the butterflies’ migration route.
Every addition and improvement GSA has made to the area over the years, Gallegos said, was “based on the needs of the wildlife and plants out there.”
Last April, the Alamo Area Chapter of the Texas Master Naturalist began sending volunteers to the site every Thursday morning to manage the land. Tasks ranged from invasive plant removal to trail building to planting seeds to clearing brush.
The enhancements have allowed adults and children to explore the site and learn about its thriving ecosystem on guided nature tours led by Ron Tullius of the Alamo Area Chapter of the Texas Master Naturalist. Families, students, and anyone else interested in seeing Bulverde Oaks can take part in nature hikes with Tullius on the first Saturday of each month, starting this Saturday, Jan. 7, and going through Dec. 2.
Because Bulverde Oaks is a nature preserve, it is not open to the public except for tour days, Gallegos said.
Gallegos encourages visitors to make multiple trips to the nature preserve throughout the year, as the landscape, flora, and fauna change considerably from season to season.
“At least in South Texas, nature doesn’t really fall asleep completely,” Gallegos said. “There are always activities in nature going on.”
Bulverde Oaks is a small parcel of land compared to city parks such as the 300-acre Phil Hardberger Park, but GSA sees it as an area worthy of investment and conservation. The nonprofit is working on a master plan for the site that would turn Bulverde Oaks into an outdoor classroom. The planning effort is being underwritten by a $15,000 grant from Tesoro Corp., an independent refiner and marketer of petroleum products.
“We want education to be the primary focus of all of our activities there,” Gallegos said.
Gallegos hopes to finish the master plan by this year and get started on its implementation soon after.
It’s a unique undertaking for GSA because the Bulverde Oaks is the nonprofit’s only property in San Antonio. It owns another parcel of land in Kendalia, just north of the city, and has conservation easements in three other areas in San Antonio.
But Gallegos sees Bulverde Oaks, the “little nature oasis” as one of the organization’s assets most in need of protection.
“It’s just really surprising when you realize it’s only 31 acres because we have so much wildlife and plants and insects and birds,” she said.
“And (Bulverde Oaks) is their last island.”