The Great Springs Project’s founders say they want to create a “national park-scale corridor of protected lands” with hike and bike trails from Austin to San Antonio.

Now, the National Park Service is helping them make that vision a reality.

The service announced last month that the Great Springs Project, a nonprofit effort to create a more than 100-mile trail network joining the cities of the Interstate 35 corridor, had been selected to for its Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance program.

The more than 30-year-old program pairs federal landscape architects, community planners, and other staffers with local entities seeking help with outdoor projects. Great Springs had to apply through a competitive process and was picked based on commitment from supporters, its land preservation goals, and opening public access to the outdoors, said Joshua Tuck, a National Park Service staffer assigned to the project.

“Our work is rewarding because you’re bringing the resources that might otherwise go to a national park experience to a neighborhood, to a city, to a town, or to a region,” said Tuck, whose main role will be public engagement.

The federal government’s inclusion in the project is a significant milestone for the Great Springs Project, which started in 2019. Founders named it for the four major springs of the Edwards Aquifer in Austin, San Marcos, New Braunfels, and San Antonio.

The vision is still a long way off. The San Antonio and Austin areas already have extensive local trail networks, most of the I-35 corridor cities and counties have only built small segments of compatible trail. Great Springs leaders don’t expect to finish the trail until 2036.

Still, they’re already making tangible progress.

One example was the inclusion of $8.5 million in Hays County’s 2020 parks bond to purchase an 844-acre tract along Sink Creek in San Marcos. The land lies over sensitive parts of the Edwards Aquifer and includes prime habitat for the endangered golden-cheeked warbler. Great Springs and fellow nonprofit Hill Country Conservancy both helped facilitate the deal.

Emma Lindrose-Siegel, Great Springs’ chief development officer, said the group is “just thrilled” to have help from National Park Service staff and hopes that other government entities will join the effort.

“We do hope that there will be not just parks throughout the trail, but national parks and state parks,” Lindrose-Siegel said. “We also hope that there are some national trail designations.”

She added that Great Springs is deep in a master planning effort to map out potential routes. In Travis County, they plan to join to the Violet Crown Trail, which connects to Barton Springs. But in San Antonio and other cities, they’re less certain.

“Having some options and some details and community input for the other routes that are yet to be defined are really essential to the work right now,” Lindrose-Siegel said.

She urged people interested in the project to follow updates on its website and on social media channels.

Brendan Gibbons

Brendan Gibbons is the San Antonio Report's environment and energy reporter.