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Geography students research to develop trails

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One of the popular hiking trails in the San Marcos area.
One of the popular hiking trails in the San Marcos area.

Photo by Chelsea Yohn | Staff Photographer

The heavy traffic in the greater Austin area will soon be alleviated by the development of trails for foot and bike travel.

Lucas Chavez, geographic information systems graduate student, was the project manager for a semester-long service project in his GIS Design & Implementation course. Working alongside Chavez was Julian Emerson, resource and environment senior, and Emma Highberger, Texas State alumna.

This class is instructed by Yihong Yuan, geography assistant professor, who has taught the course for three years. Yuan allows students to partner with a client who presents a proposal.

Chavez, Emerson and Highberger were assigned the San Marcos Greenbelt Alliance, a nonprofit organization that creates natural ways to travel, as their client. Together, the students worked alongside their client to begin planning for the Emerald Crown regional trail, and plan to connect it with Austin’s Violet Crown trail.

The Emerald Crown trail will connect San Marcos, Kyle and Buda to Austin through the Violet Crown trail and will consist of 12 fully developed concrete routes.

The students’ research included finding further information on the cities, parks, road networks and soil layers in the areas the paths would cover. Chavez said every aspect of the research was essential to creating the trails.

“I think (the trails) will help with health, lifestyle and community cohesiveness,” Chavez said. “It’s really cool that you have so many ways to get around, and it would make a city trip enjoyable because you never have to get any kind of traffic, and you get to see nature.”

The student researchers attended meetings with city officials to ensure the trails served every party’s best interest. Not only did they have to effectively communicate their plan and progress to city officials, but also with each other.

The trio was randomly grouped together and had to learn to work with one another. The group connected easily and everyone was eager to do their part.

“It was amazing working with Emma and Lucas on this project,” Emerson said. “Probably the best group I’ve ever worked with in an educational setting.”

Yuan said she and the client are very satisfied with the students’ results, given such a short time frame to work on getting data for SMGA. She said the class and project assigned will be beneficial for their futures, and many of the projects have lasting impacts with clients.

“They partner with real-world clients with real-world projects,” Yuan said. “They get the experience regarding what they can expect after they graduate and start a real job. How to deal with clients, write a proposal and getting a taste of what the real world is like.”

At this point, the students’ portion of the project is done, but this is only the beginning phase of the implementation of the trails.

A final finish date has not been established and is still in the planning stage. The SMGA plans to collaborate with other classes in the geography department to further the success of the project.

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