Dozens gathered under leafless trees on a cool, crisp Saturday morning to clear up debris and educate locals about the historic Headwaters Sanctuary, a 53-acre nature preserve that was the origin point of the city of San Antonio.
The sanctuary is boxed in by the University of the Incarnate Word, U.S. 281 and the western edge of Alamo Heights â€” prime real estate dedicated for use in the 19th century as a natural escape from the city, said Danny Ingram, a master naturalist and one of the primary members of the Headwaters at Incarnate Word volunteer group.
â€œFor PTSD, for emotional healing from any kind of traumatic experience and just to get away from our constant distractions, to walk through here is a healing experience,â€ said Ingram, an Army veteran.
Headwaters Sanctuary surrounds Blue Hole, the starting point of the San Antonio River. Now a slow trickle, the spring was once a gusher spewing up 10 to 20 feet from the earth, according to Rowena Ochiagha, also a master naturalist who regularly volunteers at the sanctuary.
The flow of water at the spring, originating from the Edwards Aquifer, allowed humans to settle in the San Antonio region 12,000 years ago, according to the volunteer group. That made the Headwaters land a sacred site for Native Americans and Texan settlers alike.
â€œThat brought settlement to the area because there was a reliable source of water year-round,â€ Ochiagha said.
Beginning in the late 1800s, settlers drilled artesian wells deep into the aquifer, creating a water source capable of supplying the cityâ€™s residents as San Antonio grew through the decades.
George W. Brackenridge, the famed San Antonio businessman and philanthropist, sold the property then known as Fernridge to the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word in 1897.
Now, the volunteer group regularly clears out trash and invasive species that crowd out growth of native plants. The group also recently built an 80-foot diameter circular garden that will hold native medicinal and pollinating plants, likely to make it an attractive spot for monarch butterflies.
The main pest the group regularly battles is ligustrum, hedgelike plants introduced in the Americas by the British that now grow in the wild and beat out other plants for sunlight, Ingram said.
â€œWhat is concerning is to see how much of a devastating mess human beings can make when we introduce plants that donâ€™t belong here,â€ Ingram said.
The Headwaters at Incarnate Word group holds volunteer events frequently throughout the year. Visit headwaters-iw.org to learn more about the sanctuary and volunteer opportunities.