Trails to Tomorrow - AmeriCorps VISTA project at Government Canyon

by Valerie Welch, AmeriCorps VISTA

Right now, many cities throughout the U.S. are experiencing problems with youth that are indicative of what has now been coined by Richard Louv in his 2005 book: Last Child in the Woods, as a “nature deficit disorder.” Making the matter more complicated is the fact that people of color in lower-income urban areas are being disproportionately affected by disappearing recess times and other forms of recreation during their school days.

Trails to Tomorrow is an AmeriCorps VISTA project located at Government Canyon State Natural Area (SNA). AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) is a federal program conceived by J.F. Kennedy in 1965 to help eradicate poverty. The focus of this project is to locate youth from the most under represented, economically distressed areas in San Antonio for field trips where they can learn and connect with the State Natural Area; a natural resource area they may not know about.

We have had one successful field day with Wheatley Community School and are anticipating four more during the remainder of the 2017-2018 school year. More dates were planned for earlier this year, however a recurring problem with transportation costs limited some of the schools that were equally interested in coming out to Government Canyon. Project A.C.O.R.N., with the personal direction of Amalia Sollars, has contributed the full amount for two of the four planned field trips. We hope to find grant relief for the upcoming year that would help towards the transportation issue.

We hope that this will build a bridge for the well-being of the youth involved and the future of TPWD. At a minimum, we hope that whomever comes out to Government Canyon will at least take a new, happy or inspirational experience home with them.

For more information please visit the Trails to Tomorrow web page, or contact Valerie Welch, AmeriCorps VISTA at


New Discovery Trail Kiosk 

Thanks to the UTSA CACP's “Design/Fabricate” Studio under instructor Darryl Ohlenbusch, the Discovery Trail now has a beautiful new trailhead kiosk. The kiosk was a semester long project where UTSA architect students were called upon to design a structure that would provide shaded seating and a mount for a trail map for the new, fully-accessible, Discovery Trail.

The design was chosen by a competitive process within the studio beginning this past January, which included input by board member of Friends of Government Canyon Graham Beach and Bob Harris of Lake|Flato Architects along with fellow board member Billy Lambert, and Chris Holm, Superintendent of Government Canyon State Natural Area. Engineering services were also provided by Larry Rickels and Eugene Polendo of Datum Engineering San Antonio.

The project was put into production in mid-March, with onsite installation completed in early May by the students themselves. The design features a steel tube primary structure and Eastern Red Cedar framing that recalls the material palette of the existing Natural Area Visitor’s Center buildings designed by Lake/Flato Architects and completed in 2005.

A huge thank you to the UTSA’s Design/Fabricate Studio and to REI of San Antonio for helping to fund the project. Map and information panels will be installed later this summer.

Meet Our Newest Board Members

This spring, the Friends of Government Canyon board of directors welcomed four new members to the team, Amanda Haas, Michael Romans, Emily Tucker, and Debi Weissling. With the addition to these four new members, the board of directors is now 12 members strong. Peter Grojean has been re-elected to serve as President, with newly appointed Billy Lambert taking on the role as Vice President. Carolyn Harris and Jon Cutshall has also been reappointed in their roles as treasurer and secretary. Get to know our newest board members below and we welcome them to the team!

Amanda Haas is a writer and entrepreneur with a passion for building strong, interconnected community organizations and bringing untold stories to light. Her business UpWrite was founded in 2015, and serves dozens of nonprofit organizations each year through grant writing, marketing, and development services. Amanda grew up in San Antonio, Texas, and attended Simmons College in Boston, Massachusetts. She has a B.A. in English and Women’s Studies, with a focus on nonfiction creative writing. She has been a lifelong nature enthusiast and is an avid hiker, camper, and backpacker.

Michael Romans is a lifelong outdoor and wildlife enthusiast. He's a land surveyor by profession, registered in both Texas (since 1984) and Colorado (since 1991). Mike is an active member of the Texas Society of Professional Surveyors, and served as San Antonio Chapter president in 2008-2009. Mike surveyed a 1,023 acre portion of Government Canyon SNA for the land consolidation process.

Emily Tucker hails from West Texas and a third generation Hill Country ranch family. She grew up backpacking in the Southwest and gained a great appreciation for access to natural places. As a landscape architect, she tries to bring a little nature into the city and foster connections. In her free time, she enjoys hiking and spending time on any Texas river with her husband and their two dogs.

Debi Weissling holds a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Texas at Austin and a Master of Multidisciplinary Science from the University of the Incarnate Word. Debi taught middle and high school science for 15 years before becoming a Secondary Science Specialist for Northside ISD.  She has been camping, exploring nature and rock hunting for as long as she can remember.  Her love for nature has spilled over into Government Canyon where she sometimes can be found in the fee booth, the dinosaur tracks (her passion) or leading hikes and children’s programs.

A Day in the Life of a GCSNA Resource Specialist

by Casey Cowan, Government Canyon Resource Specialist

It’s just before dawn and I am getting supplies together for my morning Golden-cheeked Warbler survey; GPS, iPad, Kestrel, water, gaiters, and most importantly, knife. Yup, they are all accounted for so I grab my backpack and head out the door. I cross through the picnic sites near the pavilion and hop over the fence to reach the Kallison property. Dawn is just breaking and the birds have started their chorus but the small, feisty Golden-cheek isn’t one of them. I continue down the service road until I reach the corner of the parcel I will be surveying; I enter weather conditions in the iPad then trade it for my knife from my bag. The survey starts just as I enter the woods and begin to push through the thick brush and branches.

The parcel is just over fifty acres and the parameters of the survey state you must spend at least one hour in each twenty-five acres so I slowly walk the path of least resistance while trying to keep a straight transect line. So far, the only sounds I hear are a few song birds, someone mowing their yard, and the shockingly loud firing at the National Shooting Complex. I continue, ducking and pushing through tree branches in search of the buzzy warbler sound. The morning slowly progresses and I stumble upon a large wallow that I can only assume a family of feral hogs has created. I accidently get a little too close to the edge and my boots sink in. Whoops. Just then I hear what I am there for, the sound of male Golden-cheeked Warbler singing his defensive song. I unstick my boots from the saturated mud and attempt to quietly get as close as possible to the warbler. I make it to him and take a GPS point, he flees and I follow to take another point, then again. Finally, he flees and stops singing so I regain my position along the transect and continue the survey.

As the survey draws to an end I hear what sounds like a juvenile hawk so I quietly try to investigate when suddenly an adult Coopers Hawk alights a branch just thirty yards from me. The hawk quickly decides I am not what it expected and little does he know I feel the same so we both flee. The bird continues to make the sound that originally drew me toward it so I check my back and make haste to get out of sight; if he only knew my knife was no defense against his talons. I check my watch and see that it is in fact time to call it quits so I make my way to the eastern boundary of the survey parcel; I take the weather again and enter all the data into the iPad. The hike back to my office affords some more bird watching and I spot my first Summer Tanager of the season. As I round the corner on the visitor center I contemplate what else we might encounter during the seven weeks left of these surveys.

President's Note - Spring 2018

So much is going on at GCSNA. As you will read in more detail below, we’re working on bringing more children to the SNA. This is a great way to educate inner city children and grow future advocates for our environment. This program will be expanding and was kicked off by one of one of our board members, Billy Lambert and his wife Celeste. Great job!!

We have a new Discovery Trail kiosk thanks to UTSA architectural students. This project grew out of a relationship with Billy Lambert and Darryl Ohlenbusch AIA, architectural professor at UTSA.  The senior class worked with board members and GCSNA staff to develop and build the new kiosk. The Friends group bought the materials and the students were the labor. Truly a collaborative project if ever there was one! Please make an effort to visit the new kiosk on your next visit.

We are still fund raising for the amphitheater project. Take a look at the new signage at the Visitor Center, encouraging donations and feel free to make one!!

It’s getting hot so plan your visits accordingly.  Hope to see you out at the SNA!

Peter Grojean, President

President's Note - Winter 2018

We completed our 4th Recharge run on November 4, 2017, and it was very successful! A total of 212 runners participated in the run and it raised $6,350 for the Friend’s group. A special thanks to Race Director Kimberly Aubuchon and Race Committee members Niki Lake and Dan Weissling for their help in making our annual Recharge Run such a success. GCSNA Superintendent Chris Holm ran his first trail race and placed 1st in the 8K's Male 40-49 division. Board Member Dan Weissling also placed first in the 15K's Male 60-69 Division. Congrats to them both! We would like to thank all of our generous sponsors - REI, Northside Independent School District, Whole Foods Market, The Good Kind, MBS Fitness, MBS Yoga, KIND Bar, Puro Nitro Coffee, Wildway, drinkMaple, SLS3, Paul Vanderheiden Photography, e-Dragon Productions, and Road ID - for their support of the Recharge Run, and of course to all the volunteers that spent countless hours helping us prepare for and run the race. We hope you will join us on Saturday, November 3 for the Recharge Run's fifth anniversary!

The board is currently focusing on raising funds for the new amphitheater project. The amphitheater is planned for the area near our new Children’s Nature Playscape.  Our total budget is $262,500. Lake Flato Architects has agreed to prepare construction documents pro-bono!! Some of you may know that Lake Flato was the architect for the Visitor’s Center.  Through pledges and contributions, we have raised to date $165,000, with efforts on-going to raise the balance. Please consider making contribution to this great project. Making an online contribution is very simple and easy!  We need your financial support to make the project a reality.

Hope to see you out at the State Natural Area. 

Peter Grojean, President

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