Proposed regional trail would link Austin to San Marcos

The Violet Crown Trail will ultimately stretch 30 miles from downtown Austin to northern Hays County, but with it ending just north of Onion Creek, much of Hays County will be left out.

The San Marcos Greenbelt Alliance has a possible solution: its proposed Emerald Crown Trail, a regional hike-and-bike path that would connect to Violet Crown and perhaps extend as far south as San Marcos.

“The whole basis for this regional trail concept is to allow people to get from one place to another without having to get in a motor vehicle,” said alliance President Mark Taylor, drawing a distinction with “destination trails,” where people drive to a trailhead, spend time enjoying the trail and then return home.

Other goals include connecting Hays County cities, promoting the use of parks and natural areas, encouraging healthy habits and helping the public connect with nature, Taylor said. The trail would probably run north-south but would connect to other trails and points of interest, he said.

Taylor, whose organization is spearheading planning efforts, presented the proposal to the Hays County Commissioners Court this month. A work group made up of representatives from the alliance, Hays County and the cities of Kyle, Buda and San Marcos began meeting in July.

The proposal is still in the very early stages, Taylor said, with no specific route or price tag. The group’s main goal for now is to get public buy-in before starting on logistics such as engineering and identifying funding. The group plans to hold public workshops this spring.

“We’re at an early enough stage, where before we get to the point of saying, ‘Here’s where the trail will go; this is how much it’ll cost’ … we need to get the word out and make sure the public support needed for the project is there,” Taylor said. 

ALSO READ: First section of Violet Crown Trail opens to the public

The National Park Service’s Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance Program has agreed to provide technical, outreach and planning support, Taylor said.

While much is still up in the air, Taylor said the work group has decided not to use eminent domain to secure right of way.

“We have saddled ourselves with that opportunity and responsibility rather than having property taken away from private landowners without their consent,” he said.

The group aims to fund the project mainly with grants, but other stakeholders, including Hays County and its major cities, might have to be tapped for construction or long-term maintenance costs, Taylor said.

The group has identified some possible routes with help from Texas State University geography students, Taylor said.

The students used programming to plug in the necessities — a starting point at the end of the Violet Crown Trail and connections between the three communities — as well as desired conditions, such as minimized slope, maximized tree cover and soil-based, not rock-based, ground.

“Still all to be decided, but we have the tools now to be able to do further mapping,” Taylor said, adding that the recommended routes don’t take into account land ownership and also lack connections to Kyle.

RELATED: Tired of the usual trails? Check out these 5 less-known hiking gems

The Violet Crown Trail is still a work in progress. The first 6 miles, from Zilker Park to Brodie Lane at U.S. 290, opened in August 2015.

Groundbreaking for the second segment, from U.S. 290 to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center and the Veloway, was in 2017, and it is expected to open to the public in 2019. The final segment of the trail will connect the wildflower center to the Onion Creek Management Unit.

Emily Barber, Hays County’s representative in the work group and the county’s budget and financial manager, said her hope for the trail is that it “kick-starts (the creation of) trails along preserves” and gives county residents another way to move around.

James Garza, executive director of countywide operations, said he most looked forward to bringing residents closer to nature.

“Part of (handling) growth is providing spaces for people to be in nature,” Garza said. “That’s my own goal. … I’m looking at a sidewalk right now, but I’d really rather be walking out on a nature trail somewhere.”

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