The plan to create a 100-mile network of hike-and-bike trails connecting San Antonio to Austin has hit a new milestone.

The Great Springs Project, the name of the project and of the organization bringing it to life, released a 200-page plan last week that outlines the vision for the project and frames the actions needed to make it a reality.

The project would be the first of its kind in the state and would link the four major springs of Central Texas: San Antonio, Comal, San Marcos and Barton springs. The project also aims to preserve open space over the recharge zone of the Edwards Aquifer, the region’s largest source of water and the origin of all four springs.

Great Springs Project staff worked with Alta Planning + Design, a Portland-based roadway planning firm that specializes in greenways and paths, to bring the document to life, said Emma Lindrose-Siegel, Great Springs Project chief development officer.

“We needed a primary trails plan to serve as a blueprint for where the trails were going to go and how we’re going to get from spring to spring,” Lindrose-Siegel said. “This document is that blueprint of how we’re going to get there.”

While the newly released document offers few specifics, it does give a general idea where the trails will connect and the funding the project will need and generate. It estimates that, once complete, the network could generate close to $10 million per year for Bexar County and almost $56 million annually for the entire corridor region. The project organizers are aiming to finish the network by 2036.

Segment A of the Great Springs Project utilizes some existing trails from the Howard Peak Greenway Trail system.
Segment A of the Great Springs Project utilizes some existing trails from the Howard Peak Greenway Trail system. Credit: Courtesy / Great Springs Project

The San Antonio portion of the network, which the plan calls “Segment A,” would connect the San Antonio Springs, or ”Blue Hole” — the headwaters of the San Antonio River — to Loop 1604 and Cibolo Creek. The proposed route is divided into subsections: San Antonio Springs to Loop 1604, Salado Creek to Loop 1604, and Salado Creek to Cibolo Creek. The reason behind the split path is to protect the endangered golden-cheeked warbler; during its mating season, portions of the trail may need to be closed or limited, necessitating an alternate route.

Ultimately, the trail will also connect roughly 3 miles south of San Antonio Springs to the Alamo, using some combination of existing trails and on-road connections, the plan states. Parts of the route would include new connections that will be made as part of the city’s 2022 bond program, assuming it wins voter approval on May 7.

The project was also accepted into the National Park Service‘s Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance program last year, a significant milestone that gives it a federal boost.

The project still needs funding. Local donors and sponsors thus far include the Edwards Aquifer Authority, the San Antonio River Authority (SARA) and private donors, according to the plan’s funding index. It will take a mix of public and private funds to realize this vision, said David Bemporad, Great Springs Project trails and transportation planner.

“Trails are what San Antonio does best, and it’s absolutely within the vision of what we’ve articulated for our city to make sure that the trail doesn’t just stop here,” Bemporad said, “but connects the communities all the way up the corridor.”

For all aspects outlined in the plan to come to fruition, many more meetings will need to happen among the Great Springs Project, staff from the cities and counties along the corridor — including New Braunfels and Comal County, and San Marcos and Hays County — and private landowners along the route, Bemporad said.

The Great Springs Project plans to connect four springs fed by the Edwards Aquifer.
The Great Springs Project plans to connect the four major springs fed by the Edwards Aquifer, from San Antonio up to Austin.

Discussions will include representatives from SARA and the Headwaters at the Incarnate Word, the organization that oversees the maintenance of the Blue Hole, Bemporad added. Both SARA and the Headwaters manage several trails in San Antonio, such as the Mission Reach and the still-in-development Spirit Reach, respectively. These groups have already had many informal discussions with the Great Springs Project staff, he said.

Brandon Ross, a special project manager for San Antonio’s Parks and Recreation Department, acknowledged that the newly released document is “a plan to plan,” acting more as a solid starting point for the project. While the city and Great Springs Project don’t have a formal memorandum of understanding yet, discussions are underway, Ross said.

“We just think it’s a really cool project, it’s awesome,” Ross said. “If we can make that connection, I think it would be really amazing and would probably bring a lot of people in from all over who want to hike it or bike it.”

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Lindsey Carnett

Lindsey Carnett is the Science & Utilities reporter for the San Antonio Report.