Unlike the 505-acre Pearsall Park that will open a skatepark, playground, zip lines, and marathon tracks in the Southwest Side this weekend, most of District 9’s 204-acre park will show off the natural landscape with simple hike and bike trails and impressive views of the Texas Hill Country.
The City plans to use $5.3 million in Edwards Aquifer Protection Program funds and $1 million from the district’s Hardy Oak Extension to purchase the first 165.3 acres from the Classen-Steubing family. The land is located above Edwards Aquifer recharge zone near the intersection of U.S. Highway 281 and Loop 1604.
A second, smaller portion of land will eventually host six sports fields and Councilman Joe Krier (D9) hopes to get $3.8 million from the City’s 2017 Municipal bond to purchase the remaining 38.7 acres of the former ranch land. The Classen-Steubing family has owned property in the area since the 1800s.
Krier was joined by Mayor Ivy Taylor; Francine Romero, associate dean for the College of Public Policy at UTSA; and various city officials on Tuesday to announce plans for the yet-to-be-named park in his district and one of the few remaining undeveloped tracts of land in San Antonio’s far Northside.
“This is a great opportunity for the City of San Antonio,” Taylor said. “This land’s natural beauty … is stunning and it sits over our Edwards Aquifer recharge zone. The acquisition will keep the land from being (used) for residential development. That means that as many as 3,500 houses and apartments that could have been built on this site, won’t be.”
Concerns over the rate of population growth, the school districts’ ability to keep pace, and ensuring future water supplies have city leaders taking long, critical looks at land use in the Northside. The opportunity to buy an untouched piece of land to create a park, which will also protect a huge area of the aquifer recharge zone, was an opportunity that City officials couldn’t pass up.
“The purchase will protect San Antonio’s largest source of drinking water and it will also help with the area’s roadways,” Mayor Taylor said, “and it’ll also assist the North East Independent School District and relieve the pressure of added development.”
City Council is expected to vote on the $5.3 million Prop 1 allocation at its June 16 meeting. The $3.8 million ask will likely to go voters as part of the 2017-2022 bond package – provided it makes it onto the final list.
This latter acquisition would provide space for public soccer and baseball fields, which Councilman Krier said are needed in the area.
“100 years from now nobody in San Antonio will say, ‘How did you all get this land? How much did you pay for it?’ But they will say, ‘Thank heavens that leaders in San Antonio in 2016 had the vision and leadership and the commitment to make this park happen,’ which generation after generation of San Antonians will enjoy,” Krier said.
Robert Schlortt, a member of the Classen-Steubing family, spoke about his childhood memories spent playing on the ranch and the family’s desire to see the land used as a park for many years to come.
“We trust the City of San Antonio Parks and Recreation Department to take care of this land. I have seen firsthand the commitment the city places on parks and recreation areas. I believe there could be no better steward for this land for the future,” Schlortt said. “Most of all, I want to thank the voters of San Antonio for having the foresight to proactively protect the aquifer through the Edwards Aquifer Protection Program.”
The park project is vital to preserving and protecting the Edwards Aquifer recharge zone from encroaching development, Romero said. This particular parcel of land is especially important to the aquifer.
“The aquifer potential here is amazing. There are different ratings for aquifer recharge land and this one had the only ‘Exceptional Quality’ aquifer recharge that I’ve ever seen,” Romero said. “The size, the proximity to development and how important it is to recharge are all exciting (aspects).”
Krier said the possibilities for eco-friendly construction of the park’s low-impact features are endless. Although no design plans have been formally discussed, Krier is looking forward to exploring water-conservation projects like rainwater collection systems that would work in tandem with aquifer conservation.
City officials also announced plans for a bike route that would connect the 250-acre Stone Oak Park with the new park to make nearly 500 acres of public green space available to San Antonians through the linear connection. City leaders are hopeful that most public parks and greenways, from south San Antonio, through downtown and up to the Northside, will eventually connect through an “emerald necklace” created by the Howard Peak Greenway Trail System.
Mayor Taylor, who worked closely with Councilman Krier on creating the project plan, sees the park as a lasting contribution to the preservation of natural land in San Antonio.
“It’s rare that so much pristine land is available here in the Northside, directly over the recharge zone, and with this acquisition we are protecting the Edward’s Aquifer and ensuring that most of this beautiful rugged green space remains untouched for generations to come.”
Top image: Mayor Ivy Taylor and her daughter, Morgan, take a selfie during a tour of the new park. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone.