The Howard W. Peak Greenway Trails System is transforming the landscape of San Antonio, turning neglected creeks into valuable community resources. These greenways create healthy recreational spaces that might someday connect the entire city through a series of creekside trails.
This unique, linear urban park system is underwritten by a 1/8 cent sales tax that San Antonio voters have approved three times in 2000, 2005, 2010. Now, a proposition on this May 9 City Election ballot will determine whether the program and extension of the linear parks continues for another five years.
“If anybody knows how to handle a ditch, its San Antonio,” said Councilmember Roberto Treviño (D1) at the Alazán Creek groundbreaking on April 7. “That’s how we got the River Walk, after all.”
Since the early 1990s, when former Mayor Howard Peak envisioned the transformation of forgotten creeks and flood zones into multi-use hike and bike trails, more than 46 miles of creek have been improved, along with 1,200 acres of creek-side linear park open space. Another 40 miles of trail are currently under design or development. Further funding will bring the city even closer to Peak’s vision of 130 miles of greenway flowing like a cardiovascular system through the metro area.
The trails – Salado, Leon, Huebner, Olmos, Huesta and Culebra – have greatly multiplied the city’s recreational offerings. The City is now turning to the Westside with the Alazán, Apache, San Pedro and Martínez creeks.
These natural waterways are part of the San Antonio River Basin, a 4,180 square mile area that extends from Kerr and Medina counties in the Texas Hill Country towards the Gulf of Mexico. The Basin’s primary watersheds are the Medina River, Leon Creek, Salado Creek, Cibolo Creek and, of course, the San Antonio River, which has its headwaters in a natural spring on the University of Incarnate Word campus, and flows 240 miles until it joins the Guadalupe River, and then feeds into the Gulf of Mexico.
Many of San Antonio’s creeks were channelized in the 1950s as part of a federal flood control project. While such measures were necessary, they crudely reduced the creeks to little more than trickling concrete channels, places where trash was dumped and crime was rampant.
Peak, who lived near Salado Creek, saw the potential in these degraded and underutilized areas.
“I saw that instead of a dirty old channel, we could have a vital resource for the community.” he said.
His vision for the creek system solidified when he served as mayor between 1996 and 2001, at a time when the city had not yet seriously embraced restoration of the San Antonio River. Peak made it his mission to re-establish the historic importance of the creeks, reconnect San Antonio to its waterways, and utilize the shared space to forge bonds between communities. It has been Peak’s vision, said Councilman Treviño, which has propelled the project from concept to reality.
Central to the project is a partnership between the City of San Antonio and the San Antonio River Authority (SARA), which serves as project manager. The San Antonio River Oversight Committee, a 22-member citizen council, was appointed in 1998 to guide the planning and implementation of the project.
The success of the Museum Reach and Mission Reach of the San Antonio River extensions, and creekside trails such as Leon and Salado, has prompted further improvements to smaller waterways. The Westside creeks have supported populations for more than 10,000 years, yet have long been neglected. No longer: the Alazán Creek groundbreaking took place April 7, and the Martínez Creek groundbreaking on April 21. Both projects will be completed by Spring 2016.
Treviño spoke at the groundbreaking of Martínez Creek, noting how important connectivity is for the vitality and health of the Westside. He said the City’s $1.2 million investment in this segment of the project will improve quality of life for residents by providing them with a greener, healthier environment.
The help ensure this goal, the Westside Creeks Restoration Oversight Committee has founded the Westside Creeks Restoration Project to improve the ecosystem and environment surrounding the creeks, including water enhancement and creation of habitats for aquatic species, and native and migratory birds.
These improvements will eventually connect the Westside Creeks with the San Antonio River Mission Reach at the confluence of the River and San Pedro Creek, which is currently undergoing design in workshops open to the public.
San Antonio Parks and Recreation Director Xavier Urrutia said the continuing work is about connecting people to places, and also about connecting people to people. It’s about unifying otherwise disconnected neighborhoods and communities.
Plans for the Westside creeks include designs for shade structures, monuments, maps and signage. A bike lane will connect the Alazán and Martínez Creeks along Cincinnati Avenue, with safe passageways under larger streets including Woodlawn and Culebra. Further funding will allow for increased flood control measures.
SARA Board Member Lourdes Galvan, who led the commemoration, said the overriding purpose of these improvements is “to reconnect” and to promote quality of life.
“I’m excited that the Westside’s natural beauty will be developed into a project that will be used and appreciated by the citizens of San Antonio,” she said. “This project is a testament to the City’s commitment to capitalize on the tremendous natural resource of [the creeks] to develop their recreational and educational potential.”
The City of San Antonio, Bexar County and the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers have contributed resources to the project, but voting yes on the City’s Parks Development and Expansion Venue Project Proposition 2 on May 9 is essential to securing he project’s continuation.
Councilmember Ron Nirenberg (D8) said a vote for Proposition 2 will help “create an emerald ring around the city that will connect the community in a way we’ve long lacked.”
“It’s all back to the voters,” Peak added with a smile.
“This is for students, for your children, for future generations,” said Robert Ramirez, Westside Creeks Committee Co-Chair.
The linear creeks have become a highly used community amenity, fostering better public health, community and connectivity. They are a resource everyone in the city can enjoy, especially with the planned expansion and connectivity.
Learn more about the trails, events, and volunteer opportunities online.
*Featured/top image: View of Martinez Creek. Photo by Gretchen Greer.