Planting a Sustainable Future at Trueheart Ranch Nature Park

By Austin Barrett and Miriam Lamoreaux | Posted on February 8, 2024

Bobcat SA 410

On November 2, 2023, a few dozen warm-hearted people gathered on an unseasonably cold morning, just south of San Antonio, Texas, to celebrate the future of Trueheart Ranch Nature Park, the next signature park owned and operated by The San Antonio River Authority (The River Authority). The group was a mix of community volunteers, staff from The River Authority, employees from local Bobcat Company dealerships and National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) staff members.  

Trueheart Ranch is a 351-acre historic property along the San Antonio River. It’s a place where cattle once grazed, a pecan orchard faithfully produced thousands of the heralded Texas state nut, and it is home to a historic acequia (linear irrigation ditch) which carried water pumped from the San Antonio River throughout the ranch. Under The River Authority’s care since 2014, the property is being revitalized to provide a variety of nature-based recreation opportunities. The River Authority has clear eyes and a full heart for the ranch. A network of trails has already been established, celebrating the unique natural and historic features of the land.  

One of the functional improvements to the property is the addition of rain gardens adjacent to the parking lot and flanking the historic ranch home. These rain gardens, and much of the team assembled to do the work, were made possible through the generous support of Bobcat. In celebration of Bobcat’s 65th anniversary, Bobcat and NRPA embarked on a partnership to create vibrant and sustainable communities through the power of parks and recreation. Through their partnership, Bobcat extended five grants to support compelling park improvement projects in communities like San Antonio and provided use of its compact equipment lineup on project sites.  

Pictured: Community volunteers, staff from San Antonio River Authority, employees from local Bobcat Company dealerships and NRPA staff members at Trueheart Ranch Nature Park.

The new rain gardens at Trueheart Ranch Nature Park capture 90% of the runoff that would otherwise cause localized erosion and contribute to the degradation of surface water. A rain garden is a depression in the soil that collects rainwater and is usually filled with plants to filtrate the collected water. To be successful, the surrounding area is landscaped to allow rain that falls onto impervious areas – such as nearby parking lots – to flow into the garden. Once captured, the water infiltrates the soil while being filtered by plants. At Trueheart Ranch, this means reducing urban pollutants entering the San Antonio River and reducing flood events. These two rain gardens were designed to handle 1.5 inches of rainfall per storm event. This was intentional - in South Central Texas, 90% of storms contain less than 1.5 inches of rain. 

On that November day in San Antonio, with smiles and dirty gloves, the team that gathered used hand trowels and sharpshooter shovels to plant native mealy blue sage, blue grama grass and tropical sage. The River Authority’s Natural Resource Management Specialist Peter Pierson explained how rain gardens are an excellent example of low-impact development (LID), which is the purposeful planning and engineering of land to mimic natural processes to manage stormwater runoff. Peter said rain gardens accomplish many goals. They avert runoff that contributes to flooding/erosion and encourage infiltration of the water back into the water table. They also treat pollutants before re-entering the groundwater and increase the amount of moisture released back into the atmosphere. 

Pictured: Native plants being planted at Trueheart Ranch Nature Park.

Within an hour, the team planted 300 native plants in the ground, preparing the rain gardens to swallow up and filtrate water the hardened parking lot sends their way. Framing the old ranch house, these two rain gardens are more than just eye candy. They are defenders of Trueheart and the broader San Antonio River below, contributing to a more resilient community and enhancing appreciation and stewardship of the San Antonio River Basin.  

As morning turned to mid-day, the team disbanded but the two new rain gardens remained. This collaboration between The River Authority, Bobcat, NRPA and community volunteers illustrates the broader reality that a sustainable future relies on like-minded groups working together towards a common goal. Peter Pierson said it best, “We're one big community and we all need to be pulling together if we're going to be successful and sustainable for the future.” 

Austin Barrett (he/him) is a senior evaluation manager with NRPA. 

Miriam Lamoreaux (she/her) is a development specialist with NRPA. 

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