Birdwatching project expected to bring in revenue, raise tourism

News Reporter

Hays County Master Naturalists are moving ahead with a birding project that is expected to bring in ecotourism dollars to San Marcos and other areas in the region.

The Birding Network Project will draw in animals and tourists alike, said Larry Calvert, former president of Hays County Master Naturalists. Bird watching sites that will be set up throughout the county will enhance existing bird habitats and help maintain the area, Calvert said.

Hays County Master Naturalists, Wimberley Birding Society and the Greenbelt Alliance are involved with the project, Calvert said.

The Hays County Master Naturalists are “dedicated to ecological conservation and restoration,” said Art Arizpe, current president of the chapter. The networking project will bring in tourists and teach the community about birds.

“It’s outreach and making the public aware of the importance of conservation,” Arizpe said.

The project will be a “commercial attraction” and has the potential to bring in a lot of business for the community, Arizpe said. People could spend the weekend bird watching and end up eating out and then staying in a hotel, he said.  

Arizpe said there will be more than 40 sites set up around the county through the project. The site at Jacob’s Well in Wimberley is slated to be complete by April, said Richard Parrish, county extension agent for Texas A&M AgriLife.

Eight sites will be in the works by the end of the year, pending approval. About 20 potential sites for the project are expected to be complete in two to three years, Parrish said.

“The goal is to identify and improve birding sites across Hays County and to market those birding sites to the birders and hopefully bring in economic benefit,” Parrish said. “At the same time, it’s helping to preserve habitats, as well as providing an opportunity for families here locally to go out and enjoy something as a family.”

Since the birding sites will be located in San Marcos and elsewhere, commissioners courts in other cities will have to give the project approval before it can continue moving forward, Parrish said. Kyle and Buda officials are next on the list of cities to speak with, and Charro Ranch in Dripping Springs and Spring Lake have already been approved to proceed with the project, Parrish said.

Working with the chamber of commerce in each of the cities and different tourist bureaus will help bring in visitors, Parrish said. Ecotourism is a large part of the project and San Marcos Visitor and Convention Bureau officials are “excited” and willing to provide donations and work to help promote the sites, Parrish said.

“Birding is a huge, huge business,” Parrish said.

The project will benefit the community “socially, economically and environmentally,” Parrish said.  

Hays County Judge Bert Cobb originally came up with the idea for the birding network, and Parrish said he “picked up the ball and ran with it.” Parrish is “heavily involved” with Hays County Master Naturalists, serving as an advisor to the steering committee. Parrish said he helps make sure the birding sites are accessible to the community.

Volunteers and private donations are making the project possible, Parrish said. Some of the funding is coming from volunteers, and the Master Naturalists plan to approach businesses such as Cabela’s and Academy Sports and Outdoors, Parrish said.

“It’s a project that just makes sense,” Parrish said.