The iconic F.I.S.H. by artist Donald Lipski at the I-35 Overpass near Camden Street. Courtesy photo.
The iconic F.I.S.H. by artist Donald Lipski at the I-35 Overpass near Camden Street. Courtesy photo.

If you’d asked a local resident years ago her thoughts about the San Antonio River, she might have offered a vague reference to tourism, related a story about taking out-of-town friends or family to visit the “horseshoe” section of the downtown River Walk, recalled fondly a river parade or Arneson River Theater performance, maybe even indicated she’d at some point visited a restaurant or bar alongside the many tourists who visit our fair city.

Those are all great things, but it’s likely she didn’t view the river as her “own.” Now, in a convenient fast forward to today, that story would likely be different. That’s because, with the additions of the Museum and Mission reaches, local residents can now find a place to call their own on the river.

In addition to adding all kinds of opportunities for recreation on the river, these expansions beyond the immediate downtown area have spurred small business and residential development, enabling local residents to claim the river as we never have before. It’s changed the way we re-create, socialize, exercise, learn, and enjoy nature and the outdoors in the city center. It’s changed the way we live, the way we view our city, the way we view our river.

So, if you haven’t yet visited the Museum and Mission Reaches of the River, you need to. If you have, you’re probably already a big fan and a willing and eager ambassador for everything having to do with the San Antonio River. After all, how could you not be? The project is pretty amazing – an understandable model for cities across the country and the world.

A stretch of the Mission Reach. Courtesy photo.
A stretch of the Mission Reach. Photo courtesy of the San Antonio River Authority.

The San Antonio River Foundation is proud to have played an integral role in bringing this beautiful, unique and ever blossoming amenity to local residents. As the nonprofit partner to the San Antonio River Authority (SARA), the foundation was established to provide amenities and enhancements along the San Antonio River and its tributaries not funded by public monies. As such, the foundation initiates, raises funds for, invests in, and manages public projects that provide opportunities for residents and tourists alike to enjoy the river’s natural beauty, immerse themselves in its history, and become thoughtful stewards of its future.

Why The Big Give SA?

The San Antonio River Foundation (SARF) has numerous motivations for participating in The Big Give SA this year, from being a part of San Antonio’s amazing non-profit community during an exhilarating time of great focus and pride, to raising awareness and building a new network of friends for the foundation, to raising monies for continued investment in the beautiful and unique resource that is the San Antonio River.

The foundation’s Big Give effort last year raised approximately $4,000 and, while that was a wonderful endeavor, we know we are capable of an even greater and more targeted effort this year. This year’s effort will go towards specific maintenance an upkeep of a feature that is near and dear to the hearts of our local friends and supporters – our iconic, commuting F.I.S.H. So, if you love the San Antonio River and appreciate the strides we’ve made as a city to continue to improve it for all the above mentioned reasons, please consider including us among your charitable selections in this year’s Big Give. And get out on that river, if you haven’t already – we promise, you’re going to love it as much as we do.

Who We Are

The foundation is operated with the exclusive mandate to support charitable, tax-exempt investment in the educational, cultural, and ecological projects on the river, such that we may expand the breath, depth, and reach of the positive impacts of the San Antonio River throughout the four-county it reaches. We strive to promote educational, cultural, and scientific projects and activities that enhance the conservation, stewardship, restoration, preservation, and enjoyment of the land and water resources of the San Antonio River Basin and its tributaries. In short, we work to ensure the San Antonio River continues to grow and prosper as a vibrant and active economic, cultural, ecological, and recreational corridor that plays an integral role in the lives of citizens across the greater San Antonio area and in the communities through which it runs.

Since 2004, SARF’s focus has been the San Antonio River Improvements Project (SARIP), one of the country’s most transformative public works projects. The 15-mile linear park project has been divided into two “reaches” – the Museum Reach, a formerly inaccessible section of river that has been transformed into a beautifully landscaped waterway featuring numerous innovative public art installations alongside a flourishing business and residential community, and the Historic Mission Reach, a habitat restoration and health and wellness project with complimentary art installations and portals that link the river to four of San Antonio’s five historic missions.

The River Foundation’s ambitious projects range from creating unprecedented opportunities for education, recreation, and interaction with nature along the river to initiating, funding, installing, and maintaining exciting urban art projects by renowned artists from San Antonio, the U.S., and across the globe.

Our Areas of Focus

Arts & Culture

The San Antonio River Foundation raised nearly $12 million in private funds to enhance the Museum Reach. Specific investments included the turning basin at the Pearl Brewery, a restored pedestrian bridge, extensive native plant landscaping, expanded walkways and improved lighting, increased access to notable cultural institutions such as San Antonio Museum of Art and the Tobin Center for Performing Arts, and numerous works of public art created by local, national, and internationally known artists. Art installations along the Museum Reach and Mission Reach of the river to date include a fairytale waterfall grotto, numerous street level railings, access portals linking the river to four San Antonio missions, art benches that enable rest and contemplation, and underpass installations such as the iconic commuting F.I.S.H. by artist Donald Lipski. Integrating artistic expression with the natural beauty of the river itself, both the Museum Reach and the Historic Mission reach offer vibrant daytime strolls that in many cases become even more magical at night as the spark of artistic interpretation reflects off the rivers rippling surface.

Environmental Restoration & Education

As a large and rapidly growing urbanized area, the San Antonio region faces common environmental issues encountered by large cities such as air and water pollution, industrial contaminants, flood control management, and loss of natural habitats. Decades of growth and development along the river and its tributaries have contributed to the damage of local riverine and riparian ecosystems that in some cases have isolated the populace from the rivers and streams that originally brought settlers to the greater San Antonio Area.

Lake Flato design rendering for Confluence Park. Courtesy photo.
Rendering of Confluence Park courtesy of Lake/Flato Architects and Matsys Design.

On October 29 of 2014, the Environmental Protection Agency and other federal agencies involved in the Urban Waters Federal Partnership announced the designation of the San Antonio area as an Urban Waters location. The Partnership seeks to revitalize urban waters and the communities that surround them, transforming overlooked assets into treasured centerpieces and drivers of urban revival. The Museum Reach, the Historic Mission Reach and our most exciting project to date, Confluence Park, are an outgrowth of this vision.

Community Health & Wellbeing

Improving the San Antonio River is an ambitious project that is about more than flood control, changing the river’s channel, and reengineering the river to its natural state. It’s also about creating the kinds of spaces along the river that will draw residents and visitors to this urban waterway in new ways.

Natural Recreation and Park Association’s article, “Revitalizing Urban America Through Parks And Recreation” reports that “increased access to parks, green space, and recreation opportunities is essential to becoming a healthier nation and reducing unsustainable healthcare costs.”

Additionally, in “The Benefits of Parks: Why America Needs More City Parks and Open Space,” published by the Trust for Public Lands, author Paul M. Sherer notes that, “beyond the recreational opportunities offered by parks, a growing body of research shows that contact with the natural world improves physical and psychological health.”

Improvements along the San Antonio River support and enhance the efforts of those in San Antonio striving to create a healthier, happier, and more prosperous community.

Economic Impacts

A treasure for visitors, businesses, and locals alike, the River Walk pays a vital role in the health and wellbeing of San Antonio’s economy, as well. Originally a Works Project Administration project that debuted in 1941, the River Walk has grown to 15 miles. Additions that have paved the way for continued economic growth included the Museum Reach’s lock and dam system, numerous public art installations, access to museums and the Pearl, and hiking, biking, and kayaking options along the river.

According to Suzanne Scott, SARA’s General Manager, “the conservative estimate of $3.1 billion annual economic impact of the River Walk demonstrates the enormous return on the public investment that results from projects such as the Museum Reach and Mission Reach.”

Quite simply, the River Walk is a key component for selling San Antonio, whether to potential businesses, residents, or visitors. It improves quality of life and is a foundational element for the city’s economic success.

*Featured/top image: The iconic F.I.S.H. by artist Donald Lipski at the I-35 overpass near Camden Street. Courtesy photo. 

Related Stories:

The Big Give Brings Big Change to The Playhouse

The Big Give SA: More Than an Annual Fundraiser

The Big Give SA: Crowdsourcing Philanthropy For You and Me

The Big Give SA: There Are No Small Gifts

Avatar photo

Shana Avery/San Antonio River Foundation

Shana Avery is the Director of Development at the San Antonio River Foundation. Her interests outside the Foundation include hiking and primitive camping, gardening, and playing with her poodle-retriever...