Leading the way from her office inside the Brackenridge Villa down a path that leads to the mother spring of the San Antonio River, Sister Teresa Maya, congregational leader of the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word, spoke hopefully about the future of the land. 

“Right here the sisters have imagined kind of like an outdoor amphitheater — we would love if we could see that,” Maya said, motioning to the small hill overlooking the San Antonio Spring, also known as the Blue Hole. “One day, we’ll maybe be able to have a little walkway that goes through here as well.”

With plentiful rain over the past few weeks, the land at the Headwaters at Incarnate Word has grown green and lush, and the Blue Hole — the largest of the artesian springs on the property that form the headwaters of the San Antonio River — is flowing once again. The spring only flows following rainy weather, when the water table in the Edwards Aquifer below San Antonio rises to around 670 feet above sea level. As of Thursday, the aquifer level was almost a foot above that.

Almost a year has passed since a conservation easement protected the 53-acre preserve from development. With another bond on San Antonio’s horizon, Maya and other Headwaters leaders hope to secure funding to start the design process for envisioned trail improvements stalled by the pandemic.

The future paths have been dubbed the Spirit Reach to honor the sacredness of the spot to native people and modern-day residents, Maya said.

Sister Teresa Maya poses for a portrait in front of the Blue Hole. The Headwaters at the Incarnate Word is a nonprofit ministry of the Sisters of the Incarnate Word.
Sister Teresa Maya poses for a portrait in front of the Blue Hole. The Headwaters at the Incarnate Word is a nonprofit ministry of the Sisters of the Incarnate Word. Credit: Bria Woods / San Antonio Report

The project was approved by the University of Incarnate Word, Green Spaces Alliance, and the Headwaters board prior to the pandemic, said Headwaters Executive Director Pamela Ball. 

The Spirit Reach would be an extended section of the River Walk that would include a trail under Hildebrand, and would branch into two paths – one leading to the Blue Hole and one leading to the interior of the Headwaters Sanctuary, she said. On the other side of the Blue Hole, the path would be a hike and bike trail with increasing elevation that runs along U.S. 281, taking pedestrians over Olmos Dam. 

Design planning in partnership with the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation and Bexar County ground to a halt last March as attention and funding shifted to pandemic relief efforts, Ball said.

“Before COVID hit, the project was going to go through the process of review and hopefully be submitted in two different bond stages, but that all got suspended,” Ball said. 

Maya and Ball said they would love to get funding from the 2022 bond. Maya added the sisters will also be working with other local nonprofits to raise some funds for the project. 

With the pandemic easing, May runoff elections over, and a local push for more green space that gained steam during the pandemic, Headwaters advocates hope the project will reignite.

“I think that this is a COVID opportunity,” Maya said. “[W]e learned what nature does to restore our sanity.”

Kayte Brought, brand and public communications manager for the San Antonio River Authority, said the agency isn’t aware of any updates to the project, although SARA would also love to see it move forward.

The city’s parks department appears to be keeping its powder dry. Asked about the project, a spokeswoman said, “The City is actively collecting information for the 2022 Bond. Potential projects are still being evaluated.”

Lindsey Carnett covers the environment, science and utilities for the San Antonio Report. A native San Antonian, she graduated from Texas A&M University in 2016 with a degree in telecommunication media...