The San Antonio Parks and Recreation Department has deployed 10 trail stewards along the Salado, Leon Creek, and Medina River trails of the Howard W. Peak Greenway Trails System to promote safety, render aid, and help cyclists, runners, and pedestrians who are new trail users with maps and directions.
The City’s program has received little attention even as public concern grows about “share the trail” issues on the San Antonio River, where cyclists and pedestrians are in increasing competition for space on the increasingly popular Museum, Eagleland, and Mission Reaches.
A key consumer demand on the river trails is more and better signage that spells out the rules for users and offers more location and directional information. Users also say there are too few water fountains on the river trails.
Creek trail stewards, who are paid staff, were first hired in the spring of 2013 and are identifiable by their kelly green shirts and ample trail supplies. The guides focus on public safety, first aid, and serve as knowledgeable trail ambassadors. The stewards are trained in CPR, first aid certification, and bike safety.
I recently met one of the trail stewards, Marika Misangyi, along with Meredith Tilley, program manager for the new Parks and Recreation’s Trail Watch Volunteer Program, at the Leon Vista trailhead along the Leon Creek Greenway System on the northwest side of the city to learn more about exactly how the stewards patrol and work along San Antonio’s still-growing network of creek trails.
The creek trails represent miles and miles of scenic linear park in the city, offering the refuge and pleasure of urban nature and the opportunity for residents to recreate safely and free of any vehicle traffic. The creek trails, however, have not received as much media attention as the San Antonio River Improvements and thus are not as widely appreciated.
The Leon Creek Greenway is one of the longest and most frequented trails, with a 13.5-mile connection stretching from Ingram Road all the way up to the Valero Trailhead at Loop 1604, offering cyclists, runners, walkers, and even the occasional rollerblader paved, multi-use trails with trailheads dotting the greenway at Mainland, Leon Vista Park, O.P. Schnabel Park, Buddy Calk and Fox Park, among others, serving as mile markers and opportunities for refueling and water.
It’s also one of the busiest trails. Stewards are gearing up for increased holiday traffic along the curves and varying elevations as people journey out with their families to get a breath of fresh air and enjoy the limestone bluffs, colorful bursts of fall leaves, cacti, and other fall scenery along the way.
We started out down a long hill after the trailhead, greeting another cyclist who was making the long haul up the hill. There is no posted speed along the trail system, although there are signs alerting trail users to stay right and to pass on the left, and for bikes to yield to pedestrians. One common problem on the trail, just as on the Eagleland and Mission Reach trails, is that cyclists do not call out to pedestrians on the right as they are passing on the left, Misangyi said, and many pedestrians use headphones and cannot hear such vocal signaling.
Although many of the trail suggestions are common sense – park hours are from dawn to dusk, be sure to carry water, wear sunscreen and insect repellent, be wary of snakes and other wild animals, and stay on the designated trail – they are not always followed.
Misangyi always comes to the trail prepared with a first aid kit, emergency water pack, dog repellent in case of encounters with stray animals, snacks, and rags. The latter prove useful in dealing with chains that fall off bikes or moistened with water and applied to overheated riders’ necks.
People sometimes underestimate how far they’ve walked and forget that they need to turn around and walk back, leading to dehydration and heat exhaustion in summer months, she said.
As we rode past O.P. Schnabel Park, a family stops us, uncertain about how far the trail extends north. When they find out it’s 13.5 miles, they thank us and head back in the other direction.
The Parks and Recreation department provides a trail accessibility map and map with parking information for each greenway on its website. The City is trying to keep the maps updated with the ever-changing trails. The Medina River Greenway System, running from the Medina River Natural Area toward Mitchell Lake, is being expanded toward Jim Mattox Park by the Mission Del Lago Golf Course and to the San Antonio River trails at Mission Espada, the beginning of the Mission Reach portion of the San Antonio River Improvements Project.
The Westside Creeks and Central City Trails project is also currently underway.
The San Antonio Metropolitan Planning Organization is currently seeking input from cyclists and pedestrians for its Transportation Alternatives Program and the ongoing Regional Bicycle/Pedestrian Planning Study. The study is expected to be completed around late spring 2015. The information gathered from public meetings will be used to prioritize needed improvements to public transportation.
The MPO launched the study in September to help area municipalities accomplish the vision and goals for bicycling in the region. The study is being conducted with the aid of a consultant planning team that is working to identify existing biking and walking conditions in Boerne, New Braunfels, and Seguin and prioritize projects for short, intermediate, and long-term improvements.
In San Antonio, which is actively following recommendations made in the San Antonio Bike Plan 2011 and Implementation Strategy, the focus of the study will be on pedestrian issues, as well as bike and pedestrian connections in the area encompassing the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park.
Pedestrian safety also includes pets.
“In the summer, the pavement can get very hot on (pets’) feet and they can get overheated,” Misangyi said. “We’ve had to rescue a lot of dogs. With dogs, leashes are the law. We’ve had a few accidents where the dog crossed the trail not on a leash and a bicyclist accidentally ran over the dog.”
While helmets are not mandatory, they are strongly encouraged. Experienced cyclists tend to wear helmets, while less experienced riders often do not.
As I rounded a steep, sharp corner, I saw a mirror placed on the bend to give visibility of anyone who’s coming up from behind.
The design works on a psychological level – in the same way objects in a rearview mirror are closer than they appear, the mirrors and signage along the greenway impress that cyclists might actually be going faster than they think and they should use caution or slow down.
Together with water stations, bicycle bells, and breaks for water and snacks at mile and quarter-mile markers, the trail system can provide a fun experience for everyone while reminding them to be aware of others using it, the steward said.
“It’s astounding how popular the trails have been – we just want people to know that etiquette is to share the trails and to be aware of safety,” Misangyi said.
Tilley said that trail guides quickly make friends with many of the regular users of the trail.
“Especially at North, there are so many regulars on the trail they can’t wait to talk to you,” she said. “Some of the people really look forward to interacting with us.”
Tilley said it has been good to align the trail stewards with the volunteers to promote safety awareness and stewardship principles among trail users, and she encourages people to volunteer for the program.
Anyone interested in becoming a trail steward or a volunteer should visit the Parks and Recreation website or contact Tilley at (210) 207-8603 or Meredith.email@example.com.
*Featured/top image: SA Parks and Recreation Trail Steward Marika Misangyi prepares for a bike ride north along the Leon Creek trail. Photo by Katherine Nickas.