New Opportunities Planned for Government Canyon State Natural Area

PlayscapeBoard

Whether searching excitedly for a glimpse of wild turkeys heard calling to one another just ahead; imagining how incredible it would feel to soar on wind currents like the red-shouldered hawk hunting overhead; or simply sitting on a bench by a sweetly scented, flower-covered meadow in early spring, allowing worries to melt away; opportunities for discovery, imagination, and relaxation are endless at Government Canyon State Natural Area. Since opening day in 2005, visitors from Texas and beyond have enjoyed these and other recreational pursuits on an expansive, 40+ mile system of trails. In 2012, the ability to set-up camp beneath a cover of sprawling trees in a newly opened, secluded campground only miles from downtown San Antonio became reality. Since then, visitors have enjoyed star-gazing, telling stories around a campfire, or setting out on a sunrise birding expedition in search of that next new species to add to a lifetime checklist. With an eye toward expanding opportunities once again, staff at Government Canyon will soon offer a nature playscape for little ones to embark on a path of curiosity and discovery.

Occupying an ideal spot under tall trees in the day use area, this collection of boulders, logs, and other play elements will include a variety of interpretive components aimed at igniting the curiosity in little ones. For families, a day spent relaxing at one of several adjacent picnic sites will now include a great new source of excitement and adventure for the kids.

During the past year, natural area staff has been busy behind the scenes, creating design plans and working closely with the Friends of Government Canyon on a fundraising campaign for the new addition. Once funding is secure, final layout, interpretive design, and actual project construction will begin in earnest. Everyone involved shares enthusiastically in what promises to be an exciting new chapter for Government Canyon State Natural Area.

Carl E. Green
GCSNA Office Manager

Friends of Government Canyon Announces Fund Raising Drive for Nature Playscape

 

Kids on Log     Kids at Play

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.

Registration Open for the 2nd Annual FoGC Recharge 15K/8K Trail Run

Come and run where the dinosaurs once roamed and join us for our 2nd annual trail run fundraiser on Saturday, November 7! Your entry fee includes a one-year membership to the Friends of Government Canyon, race t-shirt, a well-marked, well-supported course with well stocked aid stations. After the race enjoy delicious post-race food and refreshments!

The Recharge 15K/8K Trail Run benefits the FoGC, a 501 (c)3 organization that raises funds and provides volunteer services to help maintain, preserve, and protect Government Canyon State Natural Area (GCSNA).

IMPORTANT NOTICE
Due to potential impact on the Natural Area, the race is limited to 300 total runners. In the event of rain the race will reschedule to the following Saturday, November 14, 2015.

Entry Fees
15K $50
8K $40
RACE DAY $60 (either race)

CLICK HERE TO REGISTER!

Courses
15K runs through the Backcountry trails. A challenging and scenic course with lots of hills and rocks.

8K runs through the Frontcountry trails. An easy to moderate course that is great for beginners and walkers.

For course maps click here

Awards
This race is chip timed. Top overall & masters awards in each race, along with age group awards 3-deep in 10 year increments (19 & under, 20-29, 30-39, 40-49, 50-59, 60-69, 70 & above).

REI Trail Running Workshop 101
REI will offer a workshop on Wednesday, September 2, 2015 at 6pm led by local trail guru’s Liza Howard (Ultra running champion), Niki Lake (GCSNA Park Interpreter and Ultra-runner), and Kimberly Aubuchon (Coach for SARR Off-RoadRunners Training Team). The workshop will give you all the info you need to get you ready to rock the trails! To register, click here or stop by REI to register in person.

Packet Pick Up
Friday, November 6, 11am-7pm at REI, 11745 IH-10 West, Suite 110, San Antonio, TX 78230
Saturday, November 7, 6:15-7:15am onsite at GCSNA Picnic Pavilion

Race Location
Government Canyon State Natural Area, 12861 Galm Road, San Antonio, TX 78254

Race Day Parking
Runners MUST park at Folks Middle School located at 9855 Swayback Ranch Road approximately 1 mile from the natural area entrance ( MAP). Buses will shuttle runners to and from Government Canyon from 6:15am – 11:30am. You will be dropped off at the picnic pavilion near the Visitor’s Center where timing chips and race day packet pickup/registration is located. ONLY registered runners are able to ride the buses. Family and friends may park at the Canyon, but must pay the $6 entry fee. Parking is very limited at the natural area and we apologize for any inconvenience. Please arrive at least one hour prior to the start to get your chip and to the start line on time. (Those with a valid TPWD State Park Pass may park at the Canyon)

Camping Available
Spend the night or the entire weekend at the Canyon! Camping is available on a first come first served basis. To make a reservation visit here

FoGC News – Spring 2015

  • Vote “FOR” the Edwards Aquifer Protection Venue Project Proposition No. 1 When you head to the polls on May 9th please vote “FOR” the Edwards Aquifer Protection Venue Project Proposition No. 1 authorizing the city of San Antonio to protect water quality in the Edwards Aquifer by establishing a watershed protection and preservation project known as the “Edwards Aquifer Protection Venue Project” to acquire and preserve land or interest in land in the Edwards Aquifer Recharge and contributing zones both inside and outside of Bexar County, and develop a recharge, recharge area or recharge feature protection program and to impose a sales and use tax at the rate of 1/8th of 1% (A portion of which tax shall be shred with and used for the “Parks Development and Expansion Project” if such venue project is also approved by the voters), in an amount not to exceed $100 million (including costs of issuance and interest on bonds or other obligations, if any), for the purpose of financing the “Edwards Aquifer Protection Venue Project”, to begin upon the full collection of sales and use tax authorized by the voters on November 2, 2010 for the Edwards Aquifer Protection Venue Project and for the Parks Development and Expansion Venue Project.  For more information about the Edwards Aquifer Protection Program click here.
  • Tell the world you support Texas State Parks! Style up any automobile, truck or motorcycle with a Texas State Park Conservation License Plate.  Choose from 8 different plates that support a variety of conservation efforts right here in Texas!  Plates are only $30, and $22 of those dollars go to conservation.  While they are all great efforts, might we suggest the Bluebonnets or the Camping plates…some of the funds from their sales go toward natural resource projects.
  • FoGC Recharge Run 2015!  Due to the overwhelming positive response to last years Recharge Run we have already booked the date for next year!  Save the date for Saturday, November 7, 2015 (rain date 11/14/2015).  Registration will open June 1, 2015 and members will receive $5 off registration, all participants receive a complimentary FoGC Membership/Renewal (FoGC Membership does not include free entry into GCSNA).
  • Do you “like” us? We went from 326 “likes” to 568 “likes” and are growing strong!  Get up to date information about educational and recreational events, Canyon news, and the dreaded trail closure information via our Facebook page.  Like us today if you haven’t already–then share your GCSNA adventures on our page and let us know what your favorite trail is!  Like us!

Restoring Endangered Blackland Praries at GCSNA

FeeBoothFieldZoom      LB_PrairieParsely_PrairieLarkspur_after

Back when bison roamed and wildfires roared the Blackland Prairie ecoregion encompassed roughly 19,400 square miles, creating a vast swath of grassland that stretched from the Red River to San Antonio. Grasses such as little bluestem, sideoats grama, and indiangrass dominated the landscape, mottled in the spring with the many colors of wildflowers including Engelmann daisy, prairie verbena, and Indian blanket. Now this historic Blackland Prairie has been reduced to less than 1% of its original range, making it an endangered habitat. Government Canyon State Natural Area (GCSNA) has been given the opportunity to restore a part of this native habitat in a field around the fee booth thanks to a $20,000 grant from the Holloman-Price Foundation and with assistance from Native American Seed. While the 10-acre restored grassland won’t stretch as far as the eye can see, it will be seen by all incoming visitors to GCSNA, offering a great opportunity to educate visitors about a disappearing landscape.

Blackland Prairie, aptly named for its rich, dark clay soil, was maintained by frequent wildfires and grazing bison, which would keep the prairie clear of shrubby growth and stimulate forbs and grasses. The fertile soils of Blackland Prairies attracted crop agriculture, the leading cause of the prairie’s demise, in addition to development and ranching. GCSNA’s long history of ranching resulted in degradation of the Frontcountry grassland habitat, which is now crowded with woody species such as Ashe juniper and mesquite, and invasive grass species such as King Ranch bluestem, Johnson grass, and bermudagrass, creating monocultures and shading out native species.

GCSNA is unique because it is near the confluence of the Edwards Plateau, Blackland Prairie, Post Oak Savanna, and South Texas Brush Country ecoregions, and while the soil-type of the field supports Blackland Prairie, plant species representing other ecoregions can be found as well. Because of GCSNA’s location within this transition zone, a mixed grass prairie is found here, resulting in richer ecological diversity than a purely tall- or shortgrass prairie.

The restoration work is being contracted out to Native American Seed, and an initial site visit to assess the current vegetation in the field was positive. While there are invasive grasses, many of the species within the field are native, including some for which seeds cannot be purchased. Because of this, the field will be selectively managed, spot treating invasive grasses with herbicides and using a no-till grass drill to plant seeds in the fall. The first year following seeding will likely present many wildflower species, with grass species gaining a stronghold a couple years later. As would naturally be required, wildfire will be part of the maintenance regime for the restored prairie. This addition of grass and forb species will offer new and diverse forage and cover for wildlife, especially songbirds, ground-nesting birds, and small mammals.

While the current project is 10-acres, restoration efforts to remove woody species are ongoing within the Frontcountry, and this project hopes to be an initial exemplar for the rest of the Frontcountry restoration.

–Kelsey Woodward – Resource Specialist Government Canyon State Natural Area

GCSNA One of the Top 12 Best Running Trails in the United States

GCSNA_trail run2

March 20, 2015

Government Canyon State Natural Area (GCSNA) was listed recently in the online MSN Health and Fitness magazine as one of the Top 12 best running trails in the United States.  We couldn’t agree with them more!  A panel of five elite trail runners made the selections, including our own Liza Howard, an accomplished ultra runner who uses GCSNA as her training grounds.

Check out here for the article, panel members, and full list of the top running trails in the United States.

 

New Dinosaur Track Discoveries at GCSNA

IMG_5802

New Discoveries                                                           

Well the word is out… “Dinosaur tracks discovered at Government Canyon State Natural Area”!  Although Government Canyon staff has been aware of dinosaur tracks within the Natural Area since the property was acquired back in 1993, our ability to study, document and interpret to the public about the tracks hit numerous stumbling blocks over the years.  Either it was floods that shifted the large gravel beds in that area or rains that simply kept the tracks under water for long periods of time or it was the lack of a qualified scientific team that could study the tracks when they happened to be dry, the stars just never aligned…until this year.

It was through a chance meeting by Interpreter/Volunteer Coordinator, John Koepke, visiting the Perot Museum in Dallas that the ball started rolling again…and it now brings to mind images of that large bolder chasing Indiana Jones in The Raiders of the Lost Ark.   John happened to speak with the curator at that museum who put him in touch with the brand new Paleontologist for the Witte Museum, Dr. Thomas Adams.  Turns out, the Witte had big plans for a new and improved Witte Museum which included plans for a significant dinosaur exhibit.  And…just as much as we were looking for someone to study and document our tracks, they were looking for real dinosaur tracks that they could use to make a local connection to the San Antonio area.

And so, a partnership was born between Government Canyon and the Witte Museum whereby they would study and document the tracks, perform 3D scanning, take molds and develop casts, and then together we would develop interpretive information for both our visitors and their visitors.  The casts of our actual tracks were also envisioned to be featured beneath a very large replica of an Acrocanthosaurus, the type of dinosaur that is believed to have made our theropod (three-toed) tracks.

The research phase of the partnership began on August 5th of this year, with one of the first major tasks being to clean the dirt, mud, leaf litter, moss, etc from the trackways.  It was through this cleaning process that we discovered roughly 150 additional tracks that were previously unknown to us.  In fact, it was commented that these researchers were the first people to ever see these new tracks since they were created roughly 110 million years ago!

Research on the tracks will continue for the next several months, however, the public is more than welcome to make the 2.5 mile hike up the canyon to see the tracks.  Yes…that’s 2.5 miles each way!  We have been strongly urging folks to wait until the weather cools down a little before making the trek, especially with the August & September heat/humidity.  But if visitors must see the tracks now, they are strongly advised to take and drink lots of water…and not become another rescue statistic.

Over the next several years we will be working closely with the Witte as they revamp their museum (scheduled to be complete in 2017), and they will be working closely with us to help develop our educational messaging and exhibits as well.  What a great partnership!!

 

FoGC News – Winter 2014-2015

FoGC News, Winter 2014-2015

  • Happy Holidays to YOU! – GCSNA extends holidays hours!  Keep your family and friends wildly entertained, fit and enjoying the outdoors this holiday season. December 19-January 5 you can hike, bike, run, picnic, and even camp under the stars!  Tent camping is available on the GCSNA website.
  • Member Discount Days, December 19-January 5. Have you been in the Recharge Store recently?  You can find the coolest stocking stuffers and gifts for the outdoor enthusiasts.  Grab a GCSNA T-shirt, a nice hiking stick, hiking and identification guides, holiday ornaments, and so much more. Stop by the Recharge Store this during the holidays and receive 20% off store merchandise.  You can also purchase a TPWD State Park Pass for the outdoor lover in your life…makes a really unique gift of nature (sorry no discounts on TPWD passes).
  • GRANT-tastic! The Friends group received three grants this year! $5,000 from the Holloman Price Foundation that will be used to to build an educational Smartphone App; $19,000 from Impact San Antonio for use towards an ADA Trail in the Frontcountry; and $15,000 from the San Antonio Conservation Society that will be used to help restore the Zizelmann House.  Thank you thank you!  This is the most grant money we’ve raised in one single year.
  • We’re seeing Stars!  We’d like to recognize some rock star staff and volunteers that were honored as Stars in Our Parks 2014.  Congrats to FoGC board member, Kimberly Aubuchon; Activities Committee Member, Debi Weissling; Natural Area Interpreter, John Koepke; Resource Specialist, Niki Lake; and Office Manager, Carl Green.  These folks joined 120 other honorees recognized by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.  Watch for upcoming feature stores from each of these “stars” in upcoming FoGC Newsletters.
  • First Day Hike and Bike. Start 2015 off on the good foot!  Bring your family and friends and join us on January 1st for a variety of hikes and bike rides in the Canyon.  Check out our events page for a full list of activities.
  • Tell your legislator that you support Texas State Parks!  TPWD’s base operating budget for FY16-17 is proposed to stay about the same, and the department is also asking for about $200 million worth of exceptional items for increased funding, plus additional employee positions.  We know there is strong legislative and public support for conservation, wildlife and parks. University research and other evidence documents how state investments in fish and wildlife conservation, outdoor recreation and parks generate strong returns in the communities they serve.  In 2014, economic activity related to the Texas State Parks system generated an estimated $774 million in sales; $568 million in output; $351 million value added; $202 million impact on residents’ income; and accounted for an estimated 5,871 jobs.  Our agency is focused on making the wisest use of dollars entrusted to us, and to demonstrate that what we do is worth the investment.  Anyone can see our Legislative Appropriations Request Factsheet for more information about state funding for TPWD in the current legislative session, including a complete list of our exceptional item funding requests.  There is also a newly revised report out about the economic benefits of the Texas State Park system…The Economic Contributions of Texas State Parks.  The press release about it also has some good information.  Remember your voice makes a difference!–Tell your legislator know YOU support Texas State Parks and keep Texas wild!
  • Tell the world you support Texas State Parks! Style up any automobile, truck or motorcycle with a Texas State Park Conservation License Plate.  Choose from 8 different plates that support a variety of conservation efforts right here in Texas!  Plates are only $30, and $22 of those dollars go to conservation.  While they are all great efforts, might we suggest the Bluebonnets or the Camping plates…some of the funds from their sales go toward natural resource projects.
  • FoGC Recharge Run 2015!  Due to the overwhelming positive response to this years Recharge Run we have already booked the date for next year!  Save the date for Saturday, November 7, 2015 (rain date 11/14/2015).  Registration will open in May 2015 and members will receive $5 off registration.
  • Do you “like” us? Get up to date information about educational and recreational events, Canyon news, and the dreaded trail closure information via our Facebook page.  Like us today if you haven’t already–then share your GCSNA adventures on our page and let us know what your favorite trail is!  Like us!

 

Registration open for FoGC Recharge 8K/15K Trail Run Fundraiser

SAN ANTONIO–Join the Friends of Government Canyon for our inaugural fundraiser, The Recharge 8K/15K Trail Run which benefits the FoGC, a 501 (c)3 not-for-profit organization that raises funds and provides volunteer services to help maintain, preserve, and protect Government Canyon State Natural Area (GCSNA).

Please help us make a difference while challenging yourself on the trails of Government Canyon! Your entry fee includes a one-year membership to the Friends of Government Canyon, race t-shirt, a well-marked and well-supported course with well stocked aid stations, and post-race refreshments for all participants.

Saturday, November 1, 2014
7:30am start for 15K
7:45am start for 8K

Entry Fees
8K $40
15K $50
$60 Race Day for either race

Course
8K runs through the Frontcountry on the Savannah Loop and Lytle’s Loop trails. An easy to moderate course that is great for beginning trail runners and walkers.

15K is a hilly, rocky, challenging course that runs through the scenic Backcountry on the Recharge, Far Reaches, Recharge, Little Windmill, and Sendero Balcones trails. Some of the natural areas most scenic areas are on this course!

Awards
This race is chip timed. Top overall & masters awards in each race, along with age group awards 3-deep in 10 year increments (19 & under, 20-29, 30-39, 40-49, 50-59, 60-69, 70 & above).

Packet Pickup
October 30th & 31st, 12-6pm
Fleet Feet Sports
6408 N. New Braunfels Ave.
San Antonio, TX 78209

PLEASE NOTE
Due to impact on the Natural Area, the race is limited to 300 total runners. In the event of rain the race will reschedule to the following Saturday, November 8, 2014.

OVERNIGHT CAMPING
Is available on a first come first served basis and must be reserved through TPWD http://texas.reserveworld.com/Home.aspx

Government Canyon State Natural Area to offer Special Holiday Site Openings, Camping Opportunities

SAN ANTONIO – Texans looking to experience the beauty and adventure of the Texas Hill Country during the holidays can enjoy extended holiday site openings at Government Canyon State Natural Area in west Bexar County throughout the New Year.

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department will be extending special holiday site openings into 2014 and offering additional camping nights during the holidays. Government Canyon is usually open to the public Friday through Sunday, with camping only on Friday and Saturday nights.

Including being open every day of the week throughout this upcoming holiday season (Dec. 20– Jan. 6, 2014), special holiday site opening dates in 2014 include:
• March 11–13 (Spring Break week)
• June 19 (Emancipation Day holiday)
• Nov. 11 (Veteran’s Day)
• Nov. 25–27 (Thanksgiving week/ – Visitor Center closed Thanksgiving day)
• Dec. 23–25 & Dec. 30–Jan. 1, 2015 (Christmas/New Year’s week – Visitor Center closed Christmas day)

Special holiday camping dates in 2014 include:
• Dec. 20, 2013–Jan. 5, 2014 (Christmas/New Year holiday)
• Jan. 17–19 (MLK Day holiday)
• March 7–16 (Spring Break holiday)
• May 23–25 (Memorial Day holiday)
• Aug. 29–31 (Labor Day holiday)
• Oct. 10–12 (Columbus Day holiday)
• Nov. 7–10 (Veteran’s Day holiday)
• Nov. 21–30 (Thanksgiving holiday)
• Dec. 19–Jan. 4, 2015 (Christmas/New Year’s holiday)

“Despite statewide budget shortfalls that impacted our agency and resulted in losing employees, Government Canyon management saw an opportunity to increase access to the state natural area without diminishing the ability to effectively steward resources, provide customer service and ensure safety on busy weekends,” says Government Canyon Superintendent Chris Holm.

“By choosing weeks during the year when we knew that a large number of people would be off from work or school, we felt we could offer a greater opportunity for Texans to visit, without jeopardizing our mission as a state natural area.”

Since opening in October 2005, the Government Canyon State Natural Area has been closed mid-week so staff could work unimpeded on tasks including conducting prescribed burns to return nearly 700 acres to natural grassland savannah and to enhance woodland and cave habitat for seven indigenous federally endangered species. Crews also have kept busy developing and maintaining almost 40 miles of hiking and biking trails to ensure visitors will be able to access the natural treasures found inside the 8,600-acre natural area.

For further information and to view a schedule for future years, visit the Government Canyon page on the Texas Parks and Wildlife website, http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/spdest/findadest/parks/government_canyon/ or visit us on Facebook.