A vision that will take nearly a decade in a half to become reality is already building excitement in central and south Texas.
The Great Springs Project is underway. The plan is connect San Antonio to Austin through 100 miles of a series of trails through famous and historic springs along the way.
The project's leader, a new board member and the local cycling community all weighed in on what the new trail system could mean for the area and their hopes for the future.
Chapter 1: The project
The project is operating in full swing, with a large staff working to put the plans in motion. Their CEO, Garry Merritt, knows what you’re probably thinking.
“This is a big Texas-sized project,” Merritt said. “It's really a big civic gift to Texas. To give people in the most rapidly developing part of Texas and one of the most rapidly developing areas of the country, more places to be outside.”
The name of the project refers to the springs the trails will connect. The network of trails will start at Barton Springs in Austin, go down to San Marcos Springs, then Comal Springs in New Braunfels. The journey will wrap up at San Antonio Springs, which feeds the San Antonio River.
“Let's say you wanted to hike from Kyle to Buda or you wanted to hike from San Antonio to New Braunfels,” Merritt said. “You could do that in a day and you could spend a night in a nice bed and breakfast or a hotel, have a nice dinner and a glass of wine. Then you could hike or bike your way back home.”
And the project is expected to bring increased tourism to San Antonio and Austin.
"It also supports the local communities," Merritt said. "There's economic impact from sales tax and restaurant taxes, bringing people here and giving them another feature to connect the River Walk in San Antonio with the great trails in Austin."
See more about the project in the video below:
Chapter 2: Preserving nature
Along with the economic benefit for these cities, the Great Springs Project will benefit the land itself - from the animals that live there, to the Edwards Aquifer.
“By working over this tight geographic area, San Antonio to Austin and the recharge zone of the Edwards Aquifer, we bring attention to the importance of the aquifer and we do land conservation projects as part of that,” Merritt said. “An amazing thing about Texas and especially this part of Texas is the incredible diversity of wildlife and species that we have from certain species that only exist in the Edwards aquifer themselves to wildlife that travels out here in these places that you would not even expect. So our goal is to add an additional 50,000 acres of parks and open space, protected lands, between San Antonio and Austin.”
Believe it or not, Merritt said a third of the trail is already complete. The Salado Creek Greenway in San Antonio is just one example of an existing trail that will be connected for the project.
“By building out trail systems in the cities from San Antonio to New Braunfels and on and on, all the way to Austin, those networks get bigger and the gaps get smaller,” Merritt said. “That’s how we’ll get this done.”
Great Springs Project has been operating 501c3 since 2019 and, in that time, has completed conservation projects totaling almost 4,000 acres. Their team expects conserving an additional 50,000 acres of land and securing the right of way for the 100-mile network of trails between San Antonio and Austin to cost in the hundreds of millions of dollars. The funding will come from a mix of private investment, philanthropy, and local, state and federal funds
Chapter 3: Adventure calls
Riding a bike takes Shad Purcell down memory lane.
“I've been riding bikes since about the seventh grade with my dad,” Purcell said. “It reminds me of being a little boy, just get on two wheels and go. It’s this incredible, beautiful freedom of knowing the world is open and I can go.”
Now, a father himself, Purcell still hops on his bike weekly. Adventure calls him for miles at a time.
“So, for me, I'm going to ride 60 miles a week,” Purcell said. “The longest ride might be 70 miles.”
Purcell usually covers new ground with some company, even though a few of his fellow bikers quadruple his weekly route.
“Sometimes buddies of mine are going to ride 200 plus miles a week,” Purcell said. “So, they have maybe what you'd call an addiction, or maybe they're the healthiest people mentally and physically I know.”
Purcell may not be leading the pack, but his longest ride is on the horizon.
“I've never ridden over 75 miles, but I've been riding bikes for about 30 years. So, the dream, the goal for any cyclist, like the bucket list, is you’ve got to ride a century. You've got to ride 100 miles. So, it will happen for me someday, for sure!”
Chapter 4: Attracting business
Fellow nature enthusiast and Great Springs Project board member, April Ancira, is one of the many people helping to reach that goal.
“Since I'm an ultra-runner and an Ironman athlete, anything that has to do with the outdoors and trails, I was all about it,” Ancira said. “I have really great relationships with the communities that are from here to Austin, San Marcos, New Braunfels, and I'll be able to facilitate those connections that can make this a reality.”
Ancira also hopes the project will help attract new business to San Antonio.
"The nation's eyes will be on this corridor of 35, basically saying, 'hey, look at what they're doing here,'" Ancira said. "This is incredible. And hopefully it'll appeal to companies for them to come in and invest in this area."
Chapter 5: The Future
The plan is the finish the entire trail by the Texas Bicentennial of 2036. That means Purcell’s memories of biking with his dad will come full circle.
“If we can get to build a trail from Austin to here, I've already got commitments from my son that we're going to cover this thing,” Purcell said.
Even if it’s much later down the line, Purcell and his son plan to enjoy the journey as much as the destination.
“So he might be in his thirties, I might be in my seventies when it's completed, but it's a good thing,” Purcell said. “It’s good for the environment, it’s good for our communities, it's good for our bodies. So like, absolutely, I'm on board for this good thing.”
To learn more about the Great Springs Project or to make a donation to the cause, click here.