President's Note - Summer 2019

As we’re plugging away on numerous projects, including our Outdoor Education Amphitheater (stay tuned later this summer for updates!), and the launching of our 6thannual Recharge Trail Run, we were saddened to hear the news of the passing of Dr. Cary Guffy, a veteran volunteer and supporter of Government Canyon SNA. See his remembrance by GCSNA staffer John Koepke here.

Hope everyone has a safe, fun and outdoors summer! Stay tuned and drink plenty of water.

Peter Grojean, President

Remembering Dr. Cary Guffy

This past week we lost Dr. Cary Guffy, a long-time supporter and booster for GCSNA. In the early days he would always volunteer his time and energy to put on wonderful programs pertaining to snakes, scorpions, spiders, salamanders, and all kinds of herps. He organized and coordinated the various herpetological arrays we had placed around the Canyon and was responsible for gathering, recording and establishing our baseline data on herps at the Canyon.

 

Cary was a friendly and energetic man who had great passion about teaching and many of us considered him a friend. He taught biology for more than 20 years at Our Lady of the Lake University and his passing leaves a whole in our community. He will be missed.

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Volunteers Needed for our Activities Committee

Ever want to lead a hike, run, or mountain bike ride at Government Canyon? Are you a knowledgeable outdoors person and want to share your love of the Natural Area with others? Our Activities Committee is looking for adventurous, knowledgeable outdoors people to help us lead hikes, bike rides, runs and other outdoor activities. Come help us put on fun and interesting programs and events as a volunteer with our Activity Committee.

Members of the Activity Committee help us plan and organize our wide variety of hikes, education and interpretive events. Topics have a wide range: Wildflowers, Plants and shrubs, Birding, Wildlife, History, Geology, The Edwards Aquifer, Moonlight Hikes, Astronomy and many more! You can be the presenter/hike leader, or help coordinate the program for a guest speaker or assist in other ways. This is perfect for those who want to be part of sharing their love of the outdoors with others. Interested volunteers are asked to complete the TPWD volunteer application and can email John Koepke with questions at John.Koepke@tpwd.texas.gov.

Graduation for our Jr. Earth Scholars

In May, the Junior Earth Scholars completed a full year of nature-based learning! We celebrated with a family picnic and graduation ceremony. Junior Earth Scholars received certificates, special T-shirts and a pin to represent each nature-based topic he or she completed.   

Friends of Government Canyon volunteers, Dawn Bodhi and Debi Weissling hope to fire the program back up in January of 2020 with a new set of topics and activities to explore. For more information about the program, please contact us at reservations@friendsofgc.org

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President's Note - Spring 2019

Though we are still without a new (permanent) superintendent, there is a lot going on at Government Canyon SNA. Lake Flato has completed 95% of the drawings for the new Kallison Amphitheater. This project is fully funded with major contributions from Nick Kallison, Tim and Karen Hixon, and IMPACT San Antonio. Lake Flato is preparing the drawing pro bono, which is also terrific! We are hoping to be under construction in 60 days. JJR Trail work is mostly completed (see map below), though I have to admit that I haven’t been out to try it out. Maybe some of you have.  AND… the Big Give is coming up on Thursday, March 28.

Please remember the Friends of Government Canyon in your giving plans. Any amount is much appreciated and I think you know that your contributions are being wisely spent to make Government Canyon a better more enjoyable State Natural Area.  

Peter Grojean, President

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Big Give 2019

The 2019 Big Give SA is here! Help us support projects and programs at Government Canyon State Natural Area by making an online donation on Thursday, March 28. Your gift of $10 or more will help provide funding for projects like repairs to the JJR Trail, the new amphitheater, and more! Give anytime on Thursday, March 28 from your smartphone or computer, and don’t forget to invite your friends and family to help support our cause!

What is the Big Give? The Big Give is South Central Texas' 24-hour day of giving to support the nonprofit agencies that make this community such a great place to live. 613 agencies participated in 2018 and together raised over $5 million. In the past 5 years Big Give has raised $20,523,406 to support local nonprofits. 

A Note from our Registrar

Greetings from the Registrar!  

The Friends of Government Canyon offers many volunteer led programs. Our programs are posted on the Friends of Government Canyon website found under our events page.  

Some of our offerings require advance registration due to the nature of the program or materials required for participation. Typically, registration for a program opens at noon two weeks before the program and closes at noon the day before the program. When registering, we ask that you note any program age limits. Some of our programs are geared toward adults and some for children.  

Each event posting contains a “register” button which takes you directly to Eventbrite, which is our system for program registration. Once you are directed to Eventbrite, you may register each person for the program. You will receive an email confirming your registration with ‘tickets.’ We suggest that you bring your ticket with you to the Natural Area. Showing your paper or electronic ticket will allow entry in the event of a Natural Area capacity closure. 

We also offer programs which do not require registration! Some of our more popular ones are Hike the Canyon, Explore the Canyon, Explore the Night Sky and pop-up events. These are always open to those wanting to join in!  

We are always looking for community input as to the programs we offer. Please feel free to contact me at debiweissling@friendsofgc.org if you have questions about registration or programs. See you at the Natural Area!

Debi Weissling, Event Registrar and Board Member

 

More excitement from the Junior Earth Scholars!

During the months of January, February and March, the Earth Scholars went hiking along the Discovery Trail, investigated evidence of past life at Government Canyon and made scat! After checking out some real fossils including dinosaur poop (coprolite), the Scholars made their own fossils! Using plaster and replicas of the dinosaurs believed to have left tracks at Government Canyon, the Scholars made their own molds and casts. Sauroposeidon and Acrocanthosaurus have never been so popular! The Scholars learned to look for the prints and scat of animals that live in the Natural Area. They used their new found knowledge to make scat replicas of herbivores, carnivores and omnivores.   

Friends of Government Canyon volunteers, Dawn Bodhi and Debi Weissling lead Junior Earth Scholars the first Saturday of each month. They focus on a variety of nature-based topics and hands on activities.  

For more information about the program, please contact us at reservations@friendsofgc.org

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Honoring One of a Kind

Many of you might know her or have seen her out on the trails at the Canyon. The one and only Jo Ann Lieberman has been involved with the Canyon long before their gates opened to the public back in 2005. This past June, Jo Ann retired from her position as Academic Programs Coordinator in the Department of Pediatrics at the UT Health San Antonio. As a tribute to her forty years of service and dedication at UT Health, her associates in the Department of Pediatrics raised $2,890 for the Discovery Trail’s trailhead kiosk. The dedication was a surprise to Jo Ann and was presented to her during her retirement celebration.

Jo Ann is still very much involved the Canyon. She is an active member of Trail Patrol and is Co-Chair of the Activities Committee. She can be found out helping on trail work days, monitoring the trails, hosting guided hikes, and coordinating hikes and workshops for the Canyon. Next time you see her please make sure to tell her congratulations on her retirement and thank you for all her time and support she gives to the natural area!

And don’t forget to check out the dedication plaque on the kiosk honoring Jo Ann and supporters of the project, REI San Antonio and UTSA School of Architecture.

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Impact San Antonio Awards FoGC with High Impact Grant

On Monday, October 29, Impact San Antonio awarded Friends of Government Canyon (FoGC) a $100,000 High Impact Grants for the Outdoor Education Amphitheater. This was the first time that Impact San Antonio was able to award five, $100,000 grants in five focus areas: Art & Culture, Education, Environment, Recreation & Preservation, Family, and Health & Wellness. Impact San Antonio was also able to award five $10,000 grants in the same categories.

Impact San Antonio is a women’s philanthropic organization collective giving, grant-making nonprofit organization serving the greater San Antonio area. The organization is comprised of over 500 members whose financial contributions go to supporting area non-profits with substantial grants. This year, Friends of Government Canyon was one of over a hundred local non-profits applying for the grant.

With this grant, we have secured 95% of the funds needed to build the Outdoor Education Amphitheater. “We are very excited to be able to make the Outdoor Education Amphitheater a reality,” noted FoGC President Peter Grojean. “The amphitheater will provide a centralized location for engaging visitors in the mission of government canyon – teaching visitors about the vital role of the Edwards aquifer, the many endangered species at the canyon, the unique geology and history of the site – and the dinosaur tracks. We will also have the opportunity to provide a new outdoor classroom for our entire community!” 

Construction of the amphitheater is slated for spring 2019. The amphitheater will be located near the Playscape off parking lot C.

Impact San Antonio previously awarded Friends of Government Canyon a $19,000 grant for the Discovery Trail in 2016.

 

Members of Impact San Antonio stand with FoGC board members for the check presentation.

Members of Impact San Antonio stand with FoGC board members for the check presentation.

The 4-1-1 on Trail Closures

You may be wondering exactly why certain trails are open and certain trails are currently closed. Simply put: public safety. Due to the amount of rain Government Canyon State Natural Area (GCSNA) received over the last couple of months - 30+ inches of rain and 2 flash floods since September 1 - it is going to take time for staff and volunteers to clear and repair trails. The GCSNA staff have had several discussions about current trail openings and it comes down to two categories:

1) Open the trails on a “hike at your own risk” basis. There would be no guarantees you can find the trails, let alone navigate them. For example, we know that there are large trees down on Overlook Trail that completely block the trail as well as make it difficult to navigate around. Additional eyewitness reports indicate sections of Caroline’s Loop, Far Reaches, La Subida, Black Hill Loop, and Little Windmill are completely overgrown with tall grass, to the point of being unrecognizable as trails. Safety/rescue/any assistance would be “on your own” as the GCSNA staff can not guarantee ATV accessibility and would most certainly cannot guarantee help of ANY kind as certain sections of trails are simply not accessible by any means other than foot, or perhaps helicopter.

2) Open up ONLY those trails that have been somewhat cleared and provide relatively safe accessibility for both visitors and “rescue personnel” as best as possible.

As of November 3, the GCSNA staff are exercising Option 2. Please see the map below. It gives a thumbnail idea of the issues out there. It is nowhere near complete and does not represent everything out there that may need addressing. Please note that Wildcat has been addressed as far as large trees being down is concerned, but the entire trail is still in need of weed eating and trimming back for ATV access. The GCSNA staff have several workdays scheduled but it will take time, and good weather, to get the trails back open.

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Newest Children's Program Kicked Off this Fall

Our newest children’s program, Junior Earth Scholars, kicked off this fall and will run the first Saturday of each month through May.  

Friends of Government Canyon volunteers, Dawn Bodhi and Debi Weissling lead Junior Earth Scholars with hands on activities designed for children in second through fourth grade. The program focuses on a different nature-based topic each month. 

Children who attend Junior Earth Scholars receive an Earth Scholar badge for each topic.  So far, the Junior Earth Scholars have learned about hiking, the water cycle and the Edwards Aquifer.  They have stuffed a backpack, made it rain in a cup and built a model of the aquifer!  Upcoming topics include dinosaurs, trees, animal adaptations and more! 

For more information about the program, please contact us at reservations@friendsofgc.org.

Saying Farewell to Chris - President's Note

We sadly said our goodbyes to GCSNA Superintendent Chris Holms last week. Chris has taken a job in Washington State. He will be an Area Manager for Washington State Parks and will be overseeing several parks on Whidbey Island. This sounds like a great position and I know that he and his family will enjoy the milder climate. We will miss Chris very much and wish him and his family all the best. 

Under Chris’ tenure we have accomplished a tremendous amount. Much of the credit for our accomplishments I give to him. With a soft but effective touch, Chris was able to partner with the Friend’s group, make suggestions and provide guidance for all of the projects we have undertaken. Chris understood that working with a State agency could be burdensome and sometimes frustrating. Whether it was mustering state forces to provide construction personnel for the Discovery Trail, getting additional funding from TPWD Foundation for the amphitheater project, or coordinating the Recharge Run, Chris was always able to clear potential obstacles to make our job easier. At our kick off meeting for the amphitheater project several weeks ago I told Chris, “You picked a fine time to leave me Lucille.” We all had a good laugh. But in truth, I will miss working with Chris on this project. He made me look good.  I hope his replacement will also have that ability.  

Peter Grojean, President

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 Valerie.Welch@tpwd.texas.gov.

 

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.