Graduate students partner with Hill Country Alliance on preservation study

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Twelve graduate students from the School of Architecture, along with regional planning experts, have partnered with the Hill Country Alliance to publish a study containing strategies to protect the Texas Hill Country and its resources.

The Alliance is dedicated to preserving natural resources in the area, which reaches from northern San Antonio to western Travis County. The recently published study proposes establishing a Hill Country Endowment to finance conservation and infrastructure improvement efforts, distinguish between areas suited for preservation and areas suited for development, and establish a Hill Country Trinity Water Conservation Area to manage the use of groundwater.

The continued growth of surrounding metropolitan areas and their influence on the landscape is a concern for the area, according to Britin Bostick, a community and regional planning graduate student who was involved in the study.

“The delivery of resources to large and growing urban areas often results in infrastructure construction that utilizes eminent domain to reduce project costs,” Bostick said. “This burdens landowners, devalues their property values and the routes often destroy beautiful, uninterrupted landscapes.”

The students, with the help of visiting professor and project leader Robert Yaro, did land surveys in the area and researched its features to determine how best to preserve its resources. 

Nearby cities’ dependence on the Edwards Aquifer made preserving it a high priority for researchers, according to Fritz Steiner, School of Architecture dean.

“Both San Antonio and Austin rely on surface and groundwater from the Hill Country for their water supply,” Steiner said. “It is extremely important to the cities to preserve the Edwards Aquifer so we have a good supply of water into the future.”

Along with environmental concerns, the researchers also considered the importance of preserving the culture and heritage of the Hill Country. The study also proposed modifying land development practices by establishing conservation communities that would consider the area’s rural character when planning developments. 

Business freshman Katie Conover, who does equestrian training at a ranch in the Hill Country, said the area has a rich cultural history that could fade due to its continued development, if not protected.

“The Hill Country has so many ranches and farms that have been passed down through generations and small towns that have a very quaint feel to them,” Conover said. “These areas continue to develop, though, and I sometimes worry that they will lose the unique feel that the Hill Country has always had.”