Where can you find one of the nation’s largest parks within a city, a designated “Globally Important Bird Area,” dinosaur tracks, and Native American artifacts and remnants of early Texas ranching families? The answer is local: at San Antonio’s 12,012 acre Government Canyon State Natural Area, preserved by a community coalition and the foresight of San Antonio voters who understood the importance of protecting lands over the Edwards Aquifer Recharge Zone. Visitation to Government Canyon is exploding — up 57% in the last two years — as more San Antonians and visitors have discovered the Natural Area only 16 miles from downtown. To enhance and enrich the Natural Area, its non-profit support group, the Friends of Government Canyon, has announced plans for an exciting addition to the natural area: a Nature Playscape, a play area for children.
Peter Grojean, President of the Board of the Friends of Government Canyon, explains, “We — the Friends group — help raise money for important projects that can’t be funded through the Texas Parks and Wildlife budget. This Playscape is urgently needed — right now, the largest green space in our city, visited by so many children and school groups, has no play area at all. A Playscape has always been in the master plan for the park, but funding has not been available, and with all of the flood-related damage to Texas parks that will require repairs, it is vitally important that we San Antonians step up and help make the Playscape a reality.” The Kronkosky Charitable Foundation has awarded Friends of Government Canyon a $38,000 challenge grant for the Playscape, explains Grojean. “If we can match those funds, this project will become a reality and thousands of children will enjoy the Playscape every year.”
Working with the staff of Texas Parks and Wildlife and with Bender Clark Wells Design, a site has been selected for the Playscape, a concept has been developed, and fund raising to match the Kronkosky challenge grant has begun. Larry Clark, a landscape architect who has designed many local and regional parks and play areas, notes that a Nature Playscape, unlike a traditional playground, is specifically designed to permit and encourage children to explore the natural world around them. “Our design will include elements related to the ecology and geology of Government Canyon. We are planning to include a dry creek bed, natural plantings, and nature play elements such as a log tunnel, fallen log balance beams, tree stumps of various heights, tree slices, stepping boulders, and impressions of dinosaur and other animal tracks. Interpretive signage will add a specific educational component to the project, educating the children and their families about the ecosystem, the recharge process, the flora and fauna, and the history of Government Canyon.”
The Nature Playscape will be located by Parking Lot C, an area chosen to take advantage of existing resources there: paved, accessible parking; picnic tables; accessible restroom facilities; and drinking fountains. Parking Lot C is also the location of the Trailhead for the front country trails, which are the most “family friendly” trails at Government Canyon. “The intersection of the shorter, flatter, easier trails and existing infrastructure make this an ideal location for the Playscape,” says Clark. As a result of an on-going grassland restoration project, children and families will also be able to explore the blackland prairie, one of the region’s important ecosystems.
Construction will be planned to avoid work during the nesting season of the endangered Golden-Cheeked Warbler; use of volunteer labor when feasible will reduce costs. Once completed, the Playscape will be turned over to Texas Parks and Wildlife to operate and maintain. Natural Area Superintendent Chris Holm observes, “We are hoping to make this Playscape project a reality. Not only will it diversify what the natural area can offer when the trails are closed due to rain, it is a tremendous opportunity to introduce children to nature through play and will mesh perfectly with our mission and the low-impact, natural feel of Government Canyon. Our staff and volunteers will be able to incorporate the Playscape into informal, interpretive programming for children.
“We need the support of the community to make this important project a reality,” says Grojean. “With so many of our children having an unhealthy weight — 30% according to the SA2020 Final Report — and with our children spending more and more time with electronic devices and computers, a place to play in San Antonio’s largest green space is just essential. And every dollar you give (up to $38,000) will be doubled, because it will be matched by the challenge grant from the Kronkosky Charitable Foundation.” The Friends of Government Canyon is a charitable organization, and gifts for this project are tax deductible as allowed by law. Contributions may be sent to Friends of Government Canyon – Playscape Project, 12861 Galm Road, San Antonio, TX 78254 or made online at www.friendsofgc.org.