Members of the San Felipe Springs Golf Course Commission and the Del Rio Parks and Recreation Advisory Board say they will seek direction from the city council on the future use of some 80 acres of city land north of the existing golf course.
Golf course commission and parks advisory board members have been discussing how the property, which was purchased by the city with an eye on expanding the existing golf course, should be used after the parks board proposed the development of a nature center and corresponding trails on the land.
Members of the two bodies again discussed the use of the acreage during a joint meeting on Wednesday.
City Councilman Jim De Reus, who also serves as chairman of the San Felipe Golf Course Commission, began the joint meeting by referencing an environmental impact study done on the property after it was purchased by the city.
Parks Board President Peter Ojeda asked De Reus if a map of the proposed nine-hole layout included in the study was the plan on which the golf course commission had decided.
“That is the layout that we would go with if we move forward with our plans to create the new nine (holes),” Adrian Falcon, the city’s golf pro, told the board and commission members.
De Reus asked parks board member Joe Joplin, who had developed the nature park idea, to discuss those plans further.
Joplin said the nature park is something Del Rio doesn’t have and other cities have.
“A nature park is not a park in the sense that there’s not a playground, splash pads, things like that. We have that. It’s designed as an outdoor learning center. The initial core purpose of it is to preserve. You wouldn’t put a nature park in an old parking lot. . . How can we use (this land) to benefit the citizens or how can we invite tourism?” Joplin said.
Ojeda said his intention was not to “overshadow” all the work that has been done by the golf course commission.
“We want to work with you guys to create something that is beneficial to the biggest number of people, and if that is making alterations to the proposed (golf) course layout, I thought that would be the best way to do it,” Ojeda said.
“I want to make sure these meetings are effective and not a waste of time,” Ojeda said, adding, “But I’m not sure we’re going to convince you that a nature park is a way to go.”
Golf course commission member Mike Perez said the current golf course property contains the headwaters of the creek and noted that birdwatchers and other non-golfers frequently visit the existing golf course.
“We work around each other. There’s people walking. There’s people fishing. We are serving the community, not just the golfers,” Perez said.
He also asked Joplin if there was “anything special” about the area and when Joplin pointed out that every animal, bird, insect and piece of vegetation, even the rocks, could be of interest, Perez said, “Can’t we co-exist?”
Joplin said he came to Del Rio and became interested in the creek and wondered why it did not have the same tourism draw as smaller springs and watercourses like Comal and San Marcos Springs.
“It’s just not getting the spotlight that it should. It’s getting all of the trash and none of the tourism,” Joplin said.
He added the land as it is right now, without the addition of a golf course or a nature center, is doing what it is supposed to be doing – serving as a filter for pollutants that might end up in the creek.
Joplin also reiterated the trend has been to closing golf course closures.
“Where is the San Felipe Creek the most pristine? In the San Felipe Springs Golf Course. There’s not a piece of trash, nothing, in that creek, except natural stuff. We don’t let anything in that creek,” Perez replied.
Joplin disagreed, saying there is trash in the creek at the golf course, though he hastened to say it was not golfers putting it there. The creek is the most pristine, he said, above Jap Lowe Drive, where there is little to no development.
“Unfortunately, at the golf course and below, we’re having high E. coli readings for the last two-and-a-half years, so the creek is being contaminated somehow, and we’ve got to figure that out and second, you have all that hydrilla in the Blue Hole, and that hydrilla grows faster because of fertilizers, nitrates, so it’s definitely not pristine, except above Jap Lowe Road, but as soon as human impact hits it, it is no longer pristine,” Joplin said.
Golf commission member Oscar Cardenas said he disagreed with Joplin.
“First, you’ve only been here five years. We’ve been here a lifetime, and I’ve seen that San Felipe Creek since I was a kid. Back in the 1980s, 1990s, Mayors Gutierrez and Chavira built that walkway down the creek, and there’s not a single rock you guys can see fixing before seeing this nature park trail? We have a lot of park trails,” Cardenas said.
He said he has been walking along the creek in the mornings and not many people use the walkways that already exist.
“If we would fix the creek area, it would look fabulous, and we would have more people down there. But we’re not taking care of the old stuff that we already have, and we want to build something extra to take care of,” Cardenas said.
He added, “Building another nine (holes) would be fantastic for our community.”
Cardenas said the property had been purchased with the intent of expanding the golf course.
“There would be more motel revenue, more restaurant revenue,” Cardenas said, noting golfers in his tournaments come in from all over the state.
Joplin called the expansion of the golf course “a big risk to the taxpayers.”
Falcon said he would like to work together with the parks board to achieve both visions for the property, but noted the land north of the golf course is the only place where the existing course can expand and asked if there were any other areas along the creek where a nature park like the one envisioned by Joplin could be sited.
Perez said he still believed the two groups could work together.
“Why don’t we just agree to work together? This thing (nine-hole expansion) is still a ways off,” Perez said.
Golf course commission member Greg Carta asked if the nine-hole expansion could be designed to incorporate both plans.
De Reus asked if the groups could move forward on incorporating a trail around the perimeter of the proposed nine-hole expansion.
“I think if you went with the nine holes and a trail, then the trail would become a fitness trail, because you’re going to be on the outskirts, with housing on one side of you and scrub on the other, but you’d be away from the riparian area and it would be like the trail in the Hobbs video we saw, I wouldn’t even give it the honor of calling it a nature trail,” Joplin said, later adding he believed the nature park came about after consideration “of what’s best for the environment and what’s best for the community.”
Ojeda suggested the two groups seek input from the Del Rio City Council about their vision for the property.
“I think that’s probably the better option,” De Reus said. “We’re kind of competing, and we need to get some guidance.”
Perez said he believed the two groups could continue working together.
“I’m sure we could work this out where we could all be happy,” Perez said.
Ojeda suggested offering the council several options to consider, including development of the nine holes, the nature center or a combination of both.