Stretching across central Texas, the Edwards Aquifer provides drinking water to two million Texans, while nurturing habitat that supports a range of wildlife unique to the region, such as the endangered Texas blind salamander, Golden-cheeked Warbler and some of the largest assemblages of cave-dwelling bats in the world. The aquifer supplies water to farmers and ranchers in the area and feeds a series of springs that provide recreation and respite for local residents.
The Edwards Aquifer depends on wide open spaces to soak up rainwater and replenish the groundwater below. However, in one of the fastest growing regions in the U.S., opportunities to conserve the most ecologically important lands over the aquifer are becoming fewer and farther between, particularly in the rapidly urbanizing corridor between Austin and San Antonio.
The Great Springs Project was founded in 2019 to conserve 50,000 acres of high conservation value lands between these two cities, over the Edwards Aquifer recharge and contributing zones. This green corridor will be connected by a 100-mile trail network linking four of Texas’ iconic springs – Barton Springs, San Marcos Springs, Comal Springs and San Antonio Springs.
With support from the Jacob and Terese Hershey Foundation, the Great Springs Project completed a Master Trail Plan to identify optimal trail routes and a Land Prioritization Study to pinpoint tracts for conservation. Foundation funds have also been used to reach out to local landowners and assist those willing to protect their land through a conservation easement, to sell or donate their land, and/or to provide trail rights-of-way along the corridor.
Most recently, the Foundation partnered with the Great Springs Project to provide a low-interest bridge loan to purchase a tract of land along Dry Comal Creek in the City of Schertz to serve as a key connector for the trail network. The Schertz City Council committed to purchase the tract from the Great Springs Project, with the goal of operating it as a public park for the benefit of local residents. According to Garry Merritt, CEO of the Great Springs Project, “Real estate transactions move quickly, and the bridge loan provided by the Jacob and Terese Hershey Foundation was pivotal to Great Springs Project’s capacity to complete this land deal efficiently while affording the City of Schertz time and flexibility to do its due diligence. From Great Springs Project’s inception, the Foundation’s support has been transformational in our success as we have quickly moved from a start-up to an organization fully engaged in land conservation transactions and trail building.”
Photos courtesy of the Great Springs Project