Stacy Anderson takes a chainsaw to saplings in the way of a 3.8 mile portion of trail through Lake Kyle Natural Area that she and Benito Pereda have been tasked with clearing.
Spring is dawning at Lake Kyle Park, and the sound of the Kawasaki Gators driven by park staff scare up an occasional blue heron or red-tailed hawk beside the path along Plum Creek that will eventually be a part of a trail system allowing people to hike and bike from San Marcos to Austin.
The Emerald Crown Trail (ECT) is envisioned as the backbone of a regional trail system in eastern Hays County. The ECT’s commitment is to acquire land voluntarily, not through eminent domain.
“We are specifically saying we don’t want any eminent domain to be used for any part of this trail system,” Sherwood Bishop, president of the board of the San Marcos Greenbelt Alliance, stressed to Hays County Commissioners last week.
“What each community is choosing to do is to align the proposed rail routes along either places where there is a a trail or a trail is planned or along places building new roads,” he said.
A “work group” to facilitate the process of establishing and maintaining the Emerald Crown Trail has been meeting since its formation in 2017, Sherwood told the court, which was led by Pct. 1 Commissioner Debbie Gonzales Ingalsbe in the absence of County Judge Ruben Becerra. Ingalse, along with Pct. 3 Commissioner Lon Shell, sponsored Sherwood’s presentation to the court, and also a resolution, later passed by a unanimous vote, to support the Emerald Crown Trail.
As envisioned, the trail would connect points from San Marcos north to Austin, meeting up with the established Violet Crown Trail west of Buda near Onion Creek.
Sherwood said the work group has stakeholders from the county as well as Kyle, Buda and San Marcos and that the initiate has the support of the Meadows Center for Water and the Environment as well as the Guadalupe Blanco River Authority, the Hill Country Conservancy, the Department of Geography at Texas State University and Take a Hike. Additionally, the project has been awarded a grant from the National Park System’s Rivers and Trails program.
Another supporter of the Emerald Crown Trail is the Great Springs Project, which envisions a trails system between Austin and San Antonio that would connect the “great springs” of Barton Springs, San Marcos Springs, Comal Springs and San Antonio Springs.
Bishop said the trail will offer endless possibilities for recreation and would vary from natural surfaces, to crushed rock, to, in some cases, pavement, and would including signage for mileage, trailheads and more. Eventually, he said, it could be lined to other trails that would expand it to the north, south, east and west.
Currently, the project is in its first “phase” of brainstorming. Still to come will be opportunities for public engagement and preliminary route planning.
Bishop said though some landowners have indicated they would allow the trail through their property, he has also “heard from people where they don’t want trails.”
For purposes of planning, the trail has been divided in 12 segments. One, Bishop said, will be from San Marcos to Five Mile Dam; the next from there to the northern Kyle city limits; then through Buda to the terminus of the Violet Crown Trail.
The portion of the trail through Kyle is ambitious. A portion of it will meander through the Plum Creek Preserve that abuts Lake Kyle. It will run beneath Interstate 35 and parallel Jack C. Hays Trail on its way northward. Kyle has assigned the two-person crew of Benito Pereda and Stacy Anderson to build the 3.8 mile portion of the trail within the park.
Working with chainsaws, they are clearing a path wide enough for the Gators that will be further improved as the project progresses. Currently, there are no deadlines associated with the project.