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Per SA Express-News "Austin-to-San Antonio hike-and-bike trail will have a scenic run through Kyle featuring shops, restaurants"

Austin-to-San Antonio hike-and-bike trail will have a scenic run through Kyle featuring shops, restaurants

The City of Kyle in Hays County recently approved a multimillion-dollar trail that will bisect the city and eventually be a part of the 100-mile Great Springs Project trail connecting San Antonio to Austin.

But the trail, which originally was poised to be a natural pathway for cyclists and hikers, has evolved into what city leaders hope will be a hub of industry and development that will jolt Kyle’s population growth — regardless of whether citizens are ready for it.

In late September, the City Council gave its stamp of approval to the project known as The Vybe Kyle. It’s slated snake from the northern end of the city to the southern. Some stretches already exist within city parks. Under the proposal, the city will build new ones, many of them 12-foot-wide concrete pathways to accommodate golf carts.

The Vybe Kyle will include smaller “vybes” along the trail route. City documents describe vybes as “commercial nodes … that offer a unique experience of shopping, dining, relaxation, and fun.”

In the current plan, there are seven vybes on the western side of the trail, and 16 on the eastern side — with room for more.

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“The vybes are what we are familiar with from a development standpoint,” City Manager Scott Sellers said during the council meeting where council approved the project. “The plan is a living, breathing document. However, there are still development areas the city has been approached about because those areas still have green space for development.”

The Vybe Kyle eventually will connect to the Great Springs Project, a 100-mile trail network connecting Austin and San Antonio as sort of scenic highway for cyclists and pedestrians.

The Great Springs Project — funded by a combination of private and commercial donors, city and county tax dollars, and federal government grants — also seeks to increase the public’s accress to green space in Texas. According to the project’s 2020 annual report, the project aims to secure an additional 50,000 acres of land for the protection of the springs along the trail.

“Booming development in this region — among the fastest growing in the nation — threatens to increase the strain on this vulnerable water supply, increase flooding, threaten the ecology, and limit access to nature for tourists and residents,” the report reads. “The Central Texas region must find a way to accommodate the influx of people without sacrificing the natural water resources that attract and sustain its residents and environment.”

The project will be centered on four major springs: the San Antonio Spring (also known as the Blue Hole), Comal Springs, San Marcos Springs and Barton Springs.

Garry Merritt, the CEO of Great Springs Project, said Kyle and other municipalities throughout Hays County are critical to the project geographically and ecologically because of the region’s springs.

“The Great Springs Project trail uses work that’s already been done in addition to building new trails,” Merritt said.

In Hays County, there’s the Emerald Crown Trail, which was put together a few years ago in connection with the different cities and real estate developers in Hays County, Merritt said. The plan is to extend the trail from San Marcos north to the county line into Travis County, and then south to the Hays County line.

Cyclist James Stanfill, owner of Kyle Cyclery, rides the Plum Creek Park trail Monday in Kyle.

Cyclist James Stanfill, owner of Kyle Cyclery, rides the Plum Creek Park trail Monday in Kyle.

Jerry Lara /San Antonio Express-News

“It’ll all be connected,” he said.

The Great Springs Project’s co-founder and board president is Deborah Morin, a preservationist and practicing yoga and meditation teacher whose husband, John Mackey, is CEO and co-founder of Whole Foods Market.

Its other board members include businesswoman Hope Andrade, a former Texas secretary of state, former chairwoman of VIA Metropolitan Transit and current chairwoman of the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce

Merritt, the CEO, is a lawyer with expertise in business and real estate law and water rights.

Trails and development

City leaders bill the Vybe Kyle project as a way to capitalize on Kyle’s massive growth and to spur even more over the next decade or so.

Kyle, which straddles Interstate 35 northeast of San Marcos, is the second-largest city in Hays County. Census data show Kyle went from 6,153 residents in 2000 to 28,016 in 2010 to 45,697 in 2020. The city’s economic development team says it’s poised to surpass San Marcos in population. In the county seat, the Census Bureau counted 67,553 in 2020.

As “Kyle continues to grow at unprecedented rates, the demand from its citizens for quality of life has grown exponentially,” reads a city memo about the project. “In particular, the demand for a robust trails network has continued to grow as evidenced in the annual household survey report.”

But the “robust trails network” that will make up The Vybe Kyle is drawing criticism from both city leaders and citizens. They say the proposed concrete pavers and commercial nodes dotting the length of the trail take away from the natural beauty of a true trail experience.

James Stanfill, an avid cyclist who owns a bicycle business named Kyle Cyclery, said having the Great Springs Project trail run through Kyle would be a “big asset to the community, with more outdoor space and something besides a square park.”

But Stanfill said having various large developments along the trail is a “ridiculous notion.”

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“We’ve talked to the city’s Parks and Recreation Department about the trail system, and I think that they’re slightly understaffed and overwhelmed with growth and opportunity, and don’t really know ... what to do,” he said.

City Councilwoman Yvonne Flores-Cale takes issue with the 12-foot-wide concrete portions of the trail, saying concrete is incompatible with the natural aspects of the path.

“I would like to use something a little more porous, since this is going to go from the east to the west side,” she said at a City Council meeting. “And looking at the map, it’s going to be in some areas of flooding.”

City Manager Scott Sellers said a task force had already looked into different types of materials other than concrete, but decided concrete was the best option for pedestrians and bikers on the path, as well the most cost-effective for maintenance upkeep — which is still expected to cost the city $500,000 per year.

“Some of the material for porous pavement tends to not be so desirable from a recreational standpoint, in that it catches on the soles of feet when you’re running or strolling,” Sellers said.

City Councilman Dex Ellison was the lone “no” vote on the project, saying that the trail had become more of a “multi-use pathway” than an actual nature trail.

Ellison acknowledged he was outnumbered, but could not support the plan as is.

“I think there are opportunities for us to solidify and codify in this plan more true trails which are nature and mostly unimproved trails,” said Ellison, who has spent his share of time on trails. “I think that’s the excitement of a trail, going out an being in nature and not having a concrete improved area..”

Next steps for the Vybe

But with the other five members of the six-person council on board, the development plan officially passed, giving The Vybe Kyle its first jolt toward becoming a reality.

With the vote, the council approved hiring a six-person crew to begin the 12-foot concrete pavers. In 2020, Kyle residents approved a $2 million bond to construct the path, and the city has also requested $2 million from Hays County.

A sign marks the Plum Creek Trailhead on Monday in Kyle.

A sign marks the Plum Creek Trailhead on Monday in Kyle.

Jerry Lara /San Antonio Express-News

Merritt, the CEO of the Great Springs Project, said he doesn’t take issue with the concrete portions of Kyle’s trail.

“Each of the communities will build the trails that fit into their topography and various projects,” he said. “It really depends on what the community wants ... and then we’ll work on connecting all of them.”

The Great Springs Project is expected to be complete by 2036.

Annie Blanks writes for the Express-News through Report for America, a national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms.


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