City Parks & Recreation Department staff presented a number of recommendations to City Council on Wednesday that will, according to its research, enhance the Howard W. Peak Greenway Trail System, an in-progress network of multi-use, paved trails that wind along the city’s creeks and connect to several public parks.
The recommendations, which were endorsed by the Linear Creekway Parks Advisory Board, include continued development between established trails to create a so-called “emerald necklace” around the city, but also emphasize the importance of clear access to those trails from surrounding neighborhoods.
“Before, the vision was (creating) a ring around the city, which we still believe is a great vision and we’re moving forward in that,” said Assistant City Manager Xavier Urrutia, “but what we’ve seen grow is this (idea of) how we connect neighborhoods to that ring around the city.”
Staff proposed a balanced distribution of 27 miles of connector trails around the city that would make citizens’ access to the trail system much easier. Some areas are only in need of a trail as short as a half-mile, Urrutia said, which would make all the difference.
“I know of an example where a small connection could open up a whole neighborhood to enjoying the Salado (Creek),” Urrutia said.
Every five years since 2000, voters have overwhelmingly approved a 1/8-cent sales tax to fund land acquisition and the development of linear parks along San Antonio’s creekways though the Linear Creekway Parks Development Program. So far the City has completed more than 52 miles of trails, with another 14 miles currently under construction and 20 miles in the planning and design phase.
Councilman Ron Nirenberg (D8) said he was excited about improvements to the program and “the public is, too, because they re-approved (the program) by 78% which … is the highest margin ever amidst all the other activities we’re doing. This is the biggest voice of support that we’ve ever had for this initiative.”
Salado, Leon, Huebner, Huesta, Culebra, Alazan, Apache, Martinez, and San Pedro creeks as well as the Medina River will all soon have established trailheads under the program – many already do (see map below).
Voters allocated up to $80 million to the creekway program in 2015 by approving Proposition 2. In total, the new projects will cost $70.2 million: $54.8 million to linear trail projects and development, $2.5 million for program contingency, $5 million for low impact design (LID) features for water quality improvements, and $7.9 million for enhancements to the existing trail systems. As the trail system grows, more citizens use them, increasing maintenance costs.
With the Council’s expected approval next week, the Parks department could acquire new plots of land associated with the Greenway Trail development to ensure that the trails will also serve as connectors to “other investments that we’ve made in the city” like the Mission Reach and Spanish colonial Missions that were designated as UNESCO World Heritage sites last year.
Council will consider the recommended greenway allocations in conjunction with the 2016 mid-year budget amendments, and will also consider an amendment to an agreement with Bain Medina Bain, Inc. to design and construct a 3.5-mile stretch of trail to connect the final segment of the Leon to Salado Creek connection on the Greenway Trail System.
“We tend to work on the areas that were City-owned creekways or waterways … but we are seeing more areas that are probably going to require some type of land purchase,” Urrutia said. “As we continue the creekway system, our first goal is to meet with the (land) owners, and negotiate a fair, reasonable price” for land acquisition that would increase continuity in the trail system.
Other potential enhancements to the Greenway Trail System include adding additional parking near the greenways as well as more trail stewards, surveillance cameras and call boxes as increased safety measures for citizens who hope to run, walk, or bike along the trails.
“Those are now part of the normal (procedure of) how things are built out, and are what we incorporated and integrated into the designs of our trails moving forward,” Urrutia said.
In addition to those trail enhancements, Councilman Ray Lopez (D6) suggested exploring the idea of an app that would help locals and visitors safely navigate the trails.
It’s difficult to pin down exact finish dates for the proposed projects associated with the program since it works on a “pay-as-you-go” basis, Urrutia said. The Parks Department will receive funds for the Greenway Trail System over the five-year period of tax funding and will determine what project comes next depending on the current need at the time.
“For some projects, if there are challenges with geography or they’re privately owned property, those may be happening in 2018 or 2019,” he said. “The easier ones are the ones that are just enhancements to existing trail systems and those would be the first ones out of the chute.”
The City will, however, be strategic when deciding on which projects to implement when.
“If we know there’s a SAWS project or maybe a TCI street project occurring at the same time, we don’t want to disrupt the neighborhood more than we have to, so if we can bundle those then we can work around our schedules to make sure that happens,” he said.
The Parks Department is also aiming for Council approval to amend the interlocal agreement with the San Antonio River Authority, allowing them to continue to serve as Project Manager for the Westside Creeks Restoration Project, a hike and bike trail project along the Alazán, Martinez, Apache, and San Pedro creekways.
“We’re getting ready to open up a lot of the Westside creeks within the next month to two months,” Urrutia said. “So, within weeks we’re going to see a lot of this work that we’ve been doing with the River Authority come to fruition.”
Mayor Ivy Taylor said the greenway system provides valuable recreation and transportation options for city residents.
“I appreciate the vision of Mayor Howard Peak in relation to this huge system that I believe will have benefits beyond what we see today,” she said.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article quoted Urrutia saying he knew of a potential location for a trail connection to Salado Creek in District 7, when Salado Creek is not in District 7.
Top image: The Olmos Basin Park trail. Photo by Edmond Ortiz.