This past April, when Audubon Texas announced its 2017 Terry Hershey Awards for outstanding contributions to conservation by Texas women, King William neighbor Susan Hughes was one of the four awardees. The honor recognizes decades of public advocacy by Hughes as naturalist, activist, public advisor — and elected official: elected to the board of the Edwards Aquifer Authority at its inception in 1996, she has been returned to that role by District 6 voters ever since. But King William residents may also know her and her husband Bruce as the people on Guenther Street with all those purple martin houses.

A San Antonio native — she grew up on the near north side and got her undergraduate degree at Trinity University — Hughes remembers growing up exploring nature with her father. Interested in the wild, but not initially drawn to political activism, she chose the Audubon Society for its non-confrontational, collaborative approach to challenging issues. Downsized out of a corporate job in the early 90s, she was encouraged by her family to focus on her conservation interests and has served on the boards of Bexar, Texas, and national Audubon organizations until recently. 

“As my understanding grew, I realized that if I was interested in protecting endangered species in Texas, that meant protecting our springs,” Hughes said. That, in turn, implied managing human use of groundwater and protecting its sources. Around this time a friend told her, “The best way to influence decision makers is to become one.” Hughes followed this advice to run for, and win, election to the newly created Edwards Aquifer Authority.

She also credits her time in King William with spurring her activism. Living in the suburbs in the 90s, she and Bruce got to know our neighborhood through attending the King William Fair. When an historic house backing up on the San Antonio River came on the market, they moved quickly. The house was on the upper end of what would become the Mission Reach, a section of river that had been harshly channelized in the 1960s but was becoming a focus for redevelopment for habitat restoration and recreation. Learning that there was to be a citizens’ committee advising city government on the Mission Reach project, Hughes called her councilman and was appointed to the Mission Trails Oversight Committee. With fellow committee members including Ed Day and Irby Hightower, she helped guide the reclamation of what was, quite literally, the Hughes’s back yard.

Through her elected and appointed positions, Hughes has led or facilitated a host of aquifer protection and other conservation initiatives with local governments and private landowners. She co-founded an ad hoc working group for Sustainable San Antonio and helped lead the ongoing protection, by conservation easements or parkland acquisition, of Edwards Aquifer watershed — more than 146,000 acres to date. Through Bexar Audubon, she helped create the Master Naturalist program to train and certify volunteer naturalists. And she led creation of the South Texas Farm and Range Forum to build common ground between urban conservationists and rural landowners. 

Besides these activities, Hughes has maintained a freelance writing and editing business as well as an online Etsy.com storefont called BatsAboutBeads (soon to be more active). And then there are the martin houses. She “inherited” her first martin house from a neighbor even before the Hughes moved to King William and have added and regularly reorganized housing at their Guenther Street home. While these houses have been very successful, with martins nesting each year, Hughes notes that maintaining them requires substantial commitment.

After a quarter century in King William, Susan and Bruce (currently a business consultant at the UTSA Institute for Economic Development) are preparing to move. They have bought a 1938 bungalow in Olmos Park Terrace adjacent to the home of their daughter and son-in-law and look forward to settling into their grandparental roles. And, yes, they’ve found a new and dedicated home for the martin houses!

- Jack Kent Jr.

Links:

Terry Hershey Award announcement: tx.audubon.org/conservation/2017-terry-hershey-award-honorees

Texas Master Naturalists Program: https://txmn.org/ 

Edwards Aquifer Authority: http://www.edwardsaquifer.org/ 

BatsAboutBeads: https://www.etsy.com/shop/BatsaboutBeads