SAN ANTONIO – What might have once been considered a pipe dream is becoming more of a reality as the Great Springs Project continues to work towards protecting and safeguarding four major Texas springs and the lands they flow under.
A nonprofit organization known as the Great Springs Project aims to create 100 miles of hiking trails connecting San Antonio to Austin in an effort to preserve the springs and protect the surrounding land from being developed.
To help demonstrate the importance of the Great Springs Project, the group recently released a short film that shows the beauty and scope of the project while underscoring the urgency of protecting the biodiverse lands of the Texas Hill Country.
Great Springs Project officials released two versions of the film — an English version narrated by actor Matthew McConaughey and a Spanish version narrated by four-time NBA champion and former Spur Manu Ginóbili.
The English version can be viewed in the media player at the top of this article, while the Spanish version can be viewed in the media player at the bottom of this article.
In addition to the short films highlighting the importance of protecting these lands, they also highlight the hardship the land is already facing due to drought and development.
Negative impacts from new developments on highly important aquifer recharge zones are not new. The San Antonio Report published an article last year following San Antonio Water Systems’ approval of service for a 3,000-home development in Helotes Canyon — one of the most environmentally sensitive areas when it comes to the security of San Antonio’s drinking water supply, according to a study by the Southwest Research Institute. The study found that the development could cause severe environmental impacts on the aquifer.
Despite some setbacks with approved land development over environmentally sensitive areas, there have also been some wins.
In January, the Great Springs Project scored a win when $5.1 million in funding was approved for Camp Bullis via the Compatible Lands Foundation.
“The funding will leverage existing partnerships between CLF and the City of San Antonio, the Camp Bullis Sentinel Landscape, Great Springs Project, and other local organizations to protect military readiness while enhancing local efforts to safeguard the Edwards Aquifer,” according to a press release from January.
Severe drought and lack of rainfall have also been wreaking havoc on Texas rivers and aquifers.
“Already in the last 50 years, half of the springs in Texas have stopped flowing during drought years. The time to act is now before it’s too late,” McConaughey narrates.
Ultimately, the Great Springs Project hopes to unify existing local efforts to address critical water, land, wildlife, and public health challenges that face the Central Texas Region, according to the Great Springs Project website.
Referred to as a “green corridor” the proposed project plans to connect Barton Springs, San Marcos Springs, Comal Springs, and San Antonio Springs.
“These springs and thousands of others are connected underground by vast aquifers. The great springs trail is the connection we need. A trail that runs through the land that defines who we are. Some of the trail is already established and it’s time we connect the dots,” McConaughey narrates in the video.
Sections of the trail will likely be built in phases, with the order of phases depending on key factors such as funding, landowner negotiation, establishing right-of-way, permitting, design, and construction, Great Springs Project organizers said in a Facebook post.
Getting private landowners to agree on public access to their properties, especially along that large of a stretch of land, is a massive undertaking and is historically difficult.
“The Great Springs Project provides a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to protect the Hill Country and the Edwards Aquifer while creating an amazing trail system connecting San Antonio and Austin,” Ginóbili says.
Officials with the U.S. Department of the Interior said the goal of the Great Springs Project is to add an additional 50,000 acres of protected lands over the Edwards Aquifer recharge and contributing zones between the dense urban areas of Austin and San Antonio, while linking this green corridor via a network of multi-use trails.
“The Great Springs Project is not just a great trail through this recharge zone. It will conserve the land that is crucial for our springs and river to survive. Our plan is bold — it must be,” McConaughey says.
Learn more about the project at GreatSpringsProject.org.