San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

The city hopes to eventually more the double the size of the Purgatory Creek Natural Area with the purchase of 601 adjoining acres. But it doesn't have the money to do so immediately and, for now, is buying 107 acres that is part of the 289 acre tract shown on this map. MERCURY GRAPHIC by BRAD ROLLINS

by SEAN BATURA

After a larger planned expansion of the Purgatory Creek Natural Area fell through, the city is poised to acquire 107 acres that would increase the preserve’s size by roughly a quarter.

The city and the Trust for Public Land have negotiated a price of $1,611,000 to buy the land from San Marcos resident Marian Posey which comes to about $14,779 an acre.

The city had intended to use a $800,000 grant from Hays County earmarked for parkland expansion to buy 289 acres adjoining the natural area. But the trust did not receive a federal grant it needed to cover the cost of buying the whole tract and, instead, the partners will buy a 107-acre chunk of the property and return $500,000 to Hays County.

“It’s a good deal,” said Will Conley, the Hays County commissioner whose precinct includes the Purgatory Creek Natural Area. “The money that we invested in the City of San Marcos — the city’s done a wonderful job with it.”

During their regular meeting last week, Hays County commissioners said they intend to use the $500,000 being returned by the city to pay down its debt on $30 million in parks and open space bonds approved by voters in May 2007.

For now, the city still intends to someday buy the remaining 182 acres as well as an additional 312-acre tract. However, those intentions could change depending on the availability of other parkland and the desires of elected officials, said Richard Salmon, the city’s grant administrator. All of the purchases, totaling 601 acres, would more than double the 463-acre existing Purgatory Creek Natural Area.

“The Trust for Public Land continues to work diligently toward the public acquisition and protection of important watershed, habitat and recreation lands in and near Purgatory Creek,” said Scott Parker, trust’s senior program director.

Salmon said the city will apply for a federal land conservation grant in three to five months for the 182 acres if Congress funds the grant program. He said the city would use the 107-acre purchase as a match against the grant, which means the city may not need to expend additional dollars to get the grant.

Between them, the city and county have committed $3 million for improvements to the natural area but an interlocal agreement prevents all of the funds from going toward land purchase without associated improvements needed to make the land accessible to the public.

Plans also call for a wildlife observation area, a nature center, a native plan garden, restrooms, trails — and an internal park road to get there. The nature center plans hit a snag earlier in September when the city council declined to award a design contract for the project; since then, council members have batted around the prospect of scaling down the project or putting it on hold indefinitely.

According to Salmon, the city will use $800,000 in county funds ($500,000 of which is left over from a 2008 grant to the city); $300,000 from Brookfield Residential Properties as part of its deal with the city on the planned Paso Robles development; $250,000 from the Edwards Aquifer Authority; $149,969 from the Nature Conservancy; $61,680 from the Meadows Foundation and $50,000 from the Knobloch Foundation. The Trust for Public Land is paying for the land survey and other administrative costs.

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