Easter weekend in San Antonio brought hundreds of families to Brackenridge Park for camping, barbecue, play, and warm nights under the stars – a decades-old custom for many in the city.

But the tradition, though beloved by generations of San Antonians, has had its challenges over the years – namely the amount of litter gathered around trash receptacles, scattered through the lawn, carelessly left on picnic tables, and floating in the adjacent river after the weekend’s festivities.

This year, however, park advocates found Brackenridge Park far cleaner than in years past.

“It was 100% better this year,” said Brackenridge Park Conservancy Executive Director Lynn Bobbitt on Monday morning. “San Antonians are to be complimented.”

Volunteers and workers with the Parks and Recreation Department still had plenty of trash to pick up early Monday morning, but Bobbitt credited increased public awareness, City staff, and more frequent trash pick up throughout the weekend as key factors in this year’s overall decrease in litter.

Families look at the tents set up for Easter weekend from the train in Brackenridge Park.
Families look at the tents set up for Easter weekend from the train in Brackenridge Park. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

Volunteers throughout the weekend roamed the park grounds handing out trash and recycling bags to campers, an effort that kept the space surprisingly clean amid the hamburger-grilling, piñata-hitting, and cascarón-cracking festivities. Volunteers provided the same service to the other eight parks that also allow camping during Easter weekend.

“It’s just sinking in to all of us that we’ve got to take care of the environment,” Bobbitt said. “I think everybody’s learning.”

Some have suggested putting stricter measures – such as charging a deposit for each campsite – in place to ensure that trash is not carelessly left behind, while other park users and community members have argued that such practices would limit accessibility to the space and keep many from partaking in the annual affair. Instead, Parks and Recreation officials have had to find other ways to educate the public on the importance of keeping the parks clean.

Parks and Recreation doesn’t track the number of visitors who camp at Brackenridge each Easter, but officials typically gather more than five tons of trash over the entire Easter weekend, from Thursday to Sunday, according to Homer Garcia, Parks and Recreation interim assistant director. They also collect more than 1,500 pounds of recyclables each year.

This year, Garcia said, the department hosted a social media contest where campers could enter photos of their tidy campsites at the end of the weekend. Winners, chosen at random, will receive prize baskets of various outdoor items.

It doesn’t look like the campaign caught on, but it’s possible that people just weren’t on their phones as much during the holiday, Bobbitt said.

At Brackenridge Park Sunday afternoon, families hunted for hidden Easter eggs, old timers sat in lawn chairs with grandchildren on their knees, and kids rode bikes along the riverside paths.

The mood was cheerful and festive, and trash was neatly collected in the various receptacles and dumpsters throughout the park.

“I think over the years [the park during Easter has] been getting cleaner and cleaner,” said Jesse Garza, who was camping with his extended family. He credited Brackenridge Park’s clean appearance to the volunteers handing out trash bags over the weekend and telling visitors to clean up their spaces when they leave the park.

“The reminders [to keep the park clean] are good because it reminds people that this is a natural space that we need to take care of,” Garza said.

But after the celebrations, it was clear some visitors ignored the Parks & Rec’s reminders to “leave no trace.”

“I think when you have a large number of people congregating, you’re always going to experience similar challenges,” Garcia said, though the trash left annually at Brackenridge Park is far worse than litter at the other parks during Easter Weekend. He said that over the years the trash problem, luckily, hasn’t gotten worse; in fact, his department has recorded higher recycling numbers.

Visitors are allowed to camp in Brackenridge Park – the city’s largest urban park –for Easter weekend for free, and many of those who do have been doing so for decades. Some even make it a point to camp in the same spot each year, staking their claims in the park – with caution tape, chained up chairs, and tents – starting the morning of Holy Thursday.

The accessibility of the park is what attracts its visitors to celebrate birthdays, have family picnics, and, of course, Easter weekend.

With efforts such as SA Tomorrow’s Sustainability Plan and the proposed Resilient SA Action Plan, City leaders are taking steps to make San Antonio more sustainable and environmentally friendly.

Yet while addressing some of the city’s most complex sustainability challenges, officials and citizens alike apparently still need to address everyday issues like widespread littering in green spaces and during events such as Fiesta.

“Brackenridge Park is for all of us,” Bobbitt said, “and, of course, we want to have fun, but we also want to take care of it.”

This article was assembled by various members of the San Antonio Report staff.