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News and Notes



Volunteer Work Days

Volunteer work days offer you the opportunity to get involved and learn more about the Headwaters at Incarnate Word. For more information, go to Get Involved, and then get in touch with our friendly for more details.


Unveiling & Blessing of The Stations of the Cross





Ever heard of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch? Well, it’s a gyre of trash that is, by some accounts, about twice the size of Texas; it swirls around in the Pacific Ocean between the coasts of Hawaii and California. There are four others just like it in all the world’s oceans. The trash gyre includes all kinds of plastic that can take many decades to break down, such as cigarette lighters, toothbrushes, combs, etc. Some sink, but most are broken down into bits that are easily ingested my marine animals and birds. Over a million die each year from ingesting plastics. About twenty percent of the trash comes from sea-going vessels while the rest washes down rivers to the ocean. The rivers flow out of watersheds where people live – and litter. So reduce the amount of your trash, and manage the trash you create so it doesn’t end up in a garbage patch, swirling and swirling endlessly in our oceans, a silent killer.


On Saturday, February 23, over 60 volunteers appeared at the Headwaters of the San Antonio River to take out the trash. All over the city, other volunteers were doing the same thing as part of the annual city-wide Basura Bash. Volunteers tackled a stretch of Olmos Creek below the Dam, the San Antonio River from the Blue Hole to Hildebrand, and a tributary of the San Antonio River known as Miller Creek.

Many thanks to Stephen Lucke, a student at Incarnate Word and leader of sustainability efforts on campus who led the effort this year. On hand to help were Howard Homan, the Headwaters Volunteer Coordinator, and several of our most loyal volunteers, Tom Willems and Olivia Tapia. Jeff and Cheri White thankfully returned this year to register all the volunteers, and Bruce Martin returned as a Zone Leader. Karen Bishop made a plug for the Olmos Basin Alliance (OBA) whose focus is on the trash problem in the Olmos Basin, including that part of the Basin that lies below the Olmos Dam. That includes the Headwaters Sanctuary, and indeed, we were a founding member of the OBA. Lots of other friends returned or came for the first time to the Headwaters. It was a beautiful day, spirits were high, and surprisingly, everyone had a blast taking out the trash! Thanks to you all! And come again! Any time.

Birders Welcome!

Birders are always welcome at the Headwaters Sanctuary! You’ll find several walking trails and footpaths through the woods and several different habitats to explore. Our bird list is growing with the help of Patsy and Alan Kuentz,, Brad Wier, Barbara Kyse, and others. Mike Scully, David Ribble and Jennifer Ince are adding birds to the list as part of the Headwaters Biodiversity Survey.

We encourage birders to record findings in E-Bird. Parking near the Sanctuary is easiest on the weekends, or early mornings and evenings during the week. Headwaters can provide a parking pass for weekday use to any birder who requests it. Here is our current bird list as of July 2013.

San Antonio River: A Spiritual Reach?

On June 25, Headwaters hosted a visioning workshop focusing on that segment of the San Antonio River that begins at the Blue Hole and flows down through Incarnate Word to Hildebrand Avenue.

Though not officially so named, this stretch of the river was dubbed the “Spiritual Reach of the San Antonio River.”

Hover over the image to pause.

About forty participants, including the heads of many river-related agencies and organizations, neighboring institutions, prominent resource professionals, and other friends of the Headwaters, worked together to brainstorm ideas about challenges and opportunities, the “look and feel” of this stretch of the river, and guiding principles for future work.

Though diverse, the group coalesced around a shared vision of what this area could and should look and feel like and how it could be connected to -- but also distinct from -- those reaches of the San Antonio River that run south from Hildebrand to Mission Espada. Consensus was not a goal, but what bubbled up throughout the morning was a universal respect for the sanctity of this unique place at the head of the river, and a desire to “first, do no harm” – to let spirit and nature be our guide.

The Headwaters at Incarnate Word deeply appreciates all those who participated in this exercise and agreed to stay involved with us as we pursue our next steps. We would also like to recognize and thank the Trull Foundation of Palacios, Texas for providing the financial support that made this visioning workshop possible. To read the background context for this effort, see the attached framing document prepared for the Visioning Workshop (pdf)

Visioning Workshop participants

Photo at right, L to R: 200 Patterson General Manager, Brenda Love; VIW Executive Director, Steve Fuller; UIW Biology Professor, Dr. Bonnie McCormick; UIW Campus Police, Chris Tingwald; SARA Botanist Lee Marlowe



Missions National Historical Park Boundary Study

The National Park Service (NPS) is exploring the possibility of expanding the boundaries of our Missions National Historical Park. Their aim is to better protect our area’s Spanish Colonial resources, the richest concentration of such resources in the US. To this day, some of these resources remain unprotected.

Scott Bentley, Superintendent, San Antonio Missions National Historical Park; Sister Yolanda Tarango, Congregational Coordinator and Headwaters Board Chair; Helen Ballew, Headwaters Director

The proposed boundary expansion includes the Headwaters Sanctuary at the head of the San Antonio River, first on the list of some 40 or so sites under consideration. The Headwaters site is important in the interpretation of our region’s rich Spanish Colonial history because the source of the river is where the story of Spanish settlement here begins. Of course the Headwaters site is important not just to our Missions era history, but also to our region’s ancient prehistory and more recent Native American history, as well as to our city’s municipal founding. And it is vitally important to the legacy of the Incarnate Word Sisters with all their prominent health care, education, social service and now environmental ministries. Humans throughout history have been drawn by the springs at the Head of the River.

Being included within the national historical park boundary would not mean handing over the land, or giving up its ownership, its management, or even its identity as the current international home of the Congregation of Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word. Rather it would provide an opportunity for collaboration with the National Park Service -- by means of a cooperative agreement – in the ecological restoration, trail construction and maintenance, historical preservation and interpretation, volunteer coordination, security and/or any other work of the Headwaters project. The range and extent of this collaboration would be subject to negotiation, and of course would depend on Congressional approval of any proposed boundary changes. At this point, the Headwaters at Incarnate Word is merely exploring its options with regard to the National Park Service. Stay tuned!

For more information about the NPS boundary study, please see:

Grant to Support Inner City School Kids!

The Faye L. and William L. Cowden Charitable Foundation of San Antonio recently awarded the Headwaters at Incarnate Word a grant of $5,000 to: 1) support land management equipment needs and 2) underwrite the costs of bringing inner city school children out to the Headwaters for hands-on science and environmental education field trips.

While the Headwaters has hosted incidental visits from nearby schools in the past, such as the St. Luke’s 3rd grade for World Water Day, this will be the first time we can offer the Sanctuary as a field trip location and underwrite the cost of transportation to bring the students here. Transportation funds are often the primary limiting factor in inner city school children getting access to the experience of off campus learning through field trips. Thanks to the Cowden Foundation, we should be able to support at least six class trips with this funding. If interested, contact the Headwaters at 210-828-2224 ext 232.

Liberating the Natives:
A Trial Run in Sanctuary Restoration

Boy Scout Grigory Broome

In the interest of learning more about nature’s response to the wholesale removal of non-native invasive species from the Headwaters Sanctuary, we are conducting a bit of research. This spring, Dr. Bonnie McCormick’s biology students set out a series of 30 x 30 meter test plots in the Headwaters Sanctuary and conducted vegetation surveys on three of these plots. Thanks to a group of Eagle Scouts and several “invaders” from the Texas Invaders Citizen Science program, Plot #1 has now been completely cleared of non-native invasive species. Volunteers have begun to clear Plot #2 this fall and we will continue this work during our Volunteer Work Days throughout the fall. We welcome your help!

The plan is to re-survey Plot #1 (post removal) and then re-vegetate it with additional natives, although by clearing away the Ligustrum and Chinaberry, we have liberated a surprising number and variety of native species in that plot already. We’ll then continue to monitor what happens there with subsequent vegetation surveys.

Hover over the image to pause.

Plot #1 is the Eagle project of Grigory Broome who is also working to earn the Scout’s Hornaday Conservation Award, an elite award based on a multi-phased project in nature conservation.

A restoration team of scientists and professionals from UIW, Trinity, and elsewhere is being assembled to help guide our future restoration work. Volunteers are needed to provide the manpower to achieve our restoration goals, so fetch your work gloves and come on out to join us!

Trail Work Advances

Volunteers blazed a bit of new trail connecting the “Old SAWS Road” and adjoining footpath along Olmos Creek to the main loop trail around the soccer fields. There is now a complete loop off the main loop trail. Invasive species were removed from alongside the new trail and chipped into big piles of mulch which were then distributed along the foot trails.

Thanks to the hard work of Trinity University first year students, under the direction of Biology Chair, Dr. David Ribble, a new spur trail now leads off of the main loop trail to the “Little Blue Hole,” a stone well-type feature of uncertain origin and purpose, but most likely a former spring.

The “WALK ON WATER” for World Water Day 2010

March 22 is World Water Day. It is also the first day of “Earth Month” which runs until Earth Day on April 22. This year World Water Day was celebrated at Incarnate Word with the inaugural “Walk on Water.” The Headwaters at Incarnate Word, working in partnership with the University’s Earth Month Committee and UIW STAND, a wonderful student organization, hosted the Walk on Water. The idea was to begin at the red footbridge over the San Antonio River and walk to different world “villages” to experience what water means to people in other parts of the world. After “travelling” to places in Africa to experience first-hand the lack of clean water to drink, and the considerable work involved in carrying water for household use, participants walked to an American “village” and experienced what can happen when a highly consumptive society mismanages its waste: trash gets away and pollutes our creeks and waterways. The final stop on the walk was at the Blue Hole, where a large volume of crystal clear clean water flowed up out of the springs at the “head” or source of the San Antonio River. What a gift! What an incredible gift! And as a token of our thanks for participating, visitors were given a small vial of blessed “spirit waters” from the Blue Hole to take home, along with a card highlighting reasons we should care about – and care for – water.

Earth Day at the Incarnate Word Generalate:
“Walking the Talk” of Earth Stewardship – “Wildscaping!”

Click here to view slideshow.The Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word rolled up their sleeves and went to work on Earth Day 2010 turning the landscaping around their international Congregational headquarters (the Generalate) into a native “wildscape.” A wildscape typically uses only native plant species, most especially those that attract birds and butterflies to the garden. It is designed to be low maintenance and to require little water.

We were guided in our landscape planning by Judit Green of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, and Patty Leslie Pasztor, local botanist, who graciously lent their expertise and energy to our project.

Nearly all the Generalate staff including a number of the local Sisters turned out to help. If you have a hankering to help out and like to get your hands in the dirt gardening, give us a call! There is always more to do.

What’s THAT?

This intriguing creature turned up in the Outdoor Classroom this past spring as the creative work of students in UIW teacher Teresa Northway’s nature art class, one of several examples of UIW faculty and students incorporating the Headwaters Sanctuary in their curriculum and studies.

Primary species of construction: bedstraw, of which there was LOTS this spring, everywhere!

Another interesting service learning project at the Headwaters this past spring was a third year architectural design module with John Hertz’s UTSA students, during which they designed a low impact, environmentally sustainable “visitor’s center” for the Headwaters. (sorry, no pictures!)


That we find a crystal or a poppy beautiful means that we are less alone, that we are more deeply inserted into existence than the course of a single life would lead us to believe. ~John Berger, The Sense of Sight, 1980


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Mark your calendars!

Summer 2017 schedule
June - August

Edwards Aquifer - Daily readings


Headwaters at Incarnate Word Biodiversity Study (pdf)

Read Our Blog

Click here to view slideshow.

Boating the San Antonio River: Then (circa 1910) and Now (2010)

With the river up and flowing clear, Sisters from the Congregation’s General Leadership Team enjoy a needed break from their labors, and paddle on the San Antonio River at the Headwaters at Incarnate Word -- the same waters their foremothers enjoyed roughly 100 years ago.

Sister Mary Gabriel, Mother Mary John A. Flasseur, circa 1910

Circa 1910: Sister Mary Gabriel, Mother Mary John A. Flasseur (and unknown novice)

Sister Yolanda Tarango, far right, with Headwaters Directgor, Helen Ballew, and General Leadership Team members Sisters Tere Maya and Luz Maria Aquilar from Mexico

Circa 2010: Sister Yolanda Tarango (“Mother Superior”), far right, with Headwaters Director, Helen Ballew, and General Leadership Team members Sister Tere Maya and Sister Luz María Aguilar from Mexico

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