To persuade someone to pick up their trash, sometimes you have to get them to pick up a paddle. 

The San Antonio River Authority launched its Be River Proud kayak series on Oct. 5 with a float on the Mission Reach on San Antonio’s South Side. The event was part of the River Authority’s latest push to turn more people into river stewards by seeing the waterway up close. About 40 kayakers paddled the 2-mile stretch between VFW Boulevard and Mission Parkway. 

The authority, whose territory includes Bexar, Wilson, Karnes, and Goliad counties, has been working to improve water quality in the river and open more of it up for hiking, biking, and floating. 

“We firmly believe if citizens get out and experience the river firsthand, they’ll walk away with a greater appreciation of it as a resource to be protected,” said Steven Schauer, the River Authority’s director of government and public affairs. 

Nine more trips are scheduled through the end of 2019 and first half of 2020, with River Authority officials still deciding which events will have kayaks provided and which will require attendees to bring their own boats. On June 30, the authority will give away a kayak, paddle, and life vest to a random attendee who has signed up for at least one of its upcoming kayak events. 

On Nov. 2, paddlers will meander through the 6.5-mile stretch of the river in Goliad County from U.S. Highway 59 to Goliad State Park as part of an annual Fall Harvest Flotilla event. On Dec. 19, kayakers will get a chance to access the Museum Reach north of downtown at night to see the river lit up for the holidays. Schauer said. 

Other upcoming excursions include paddling on the river in southern Bexar and northern Wilson counties, and along the Mission and Museum reaches in San Antonio. 

Schauer this year saw most of the 240-mile San Antonio River firsthand when he kayaked the river from Brackenridge Park to its final destination in San Antonio Bay, part of the Texas Coastal Bend. He produced two short films chronicling his trip.  

Along the way, Schauer watched beavers on the river near Falls City and floated past a river ford in Karnes County first used by Native Americans and, later, Spanish explorers. The experiences made the trip “one of the best personal experiences of my life,” Schauer said.

“We forget or are just simply not aware of as a community this beautiful natural resource that flows all the way to the Gulf Coast,” he continued. “It’s really a spectacular river, from its urban center here on its rural journey through South Texas.”

But the river also has its struggles. In its urban reaches, bacteria and other pollution in the river increase during and after rainstorms that wash chemicals, animal waste, and debris into the river. On dry days, the river is clean enough for paddling under State environmental standards.

South of San Antonio, parts of the river also suffer from the city’s trash that’s floated downstream and backed up behind aquatic plants or logs.

Polystyrene chunks and plastic water bottles collect behind a tangle of driftwood on the San Antonio River near Saspamco.
Polystyrene chunks and plastic water bottles collect behind a tangle of driftwood on the San Antonio River near Saspamco.

“It’s this interesting juxtaposition of this beautiful river, and every once in a while you’ll come to a location where there’s some debris or vegetation and its piled up with floatable trash,” Schauer said, recalling his trip. “Which is totally something humans can prevent.” 

By exposing more people to the river’s beauty, the River Authority might be able to convert more people into river stewards, Schauer said. Once people experience the river, they might do more to protect it by reducing the amount of asphalt and pavement on their properties, picking up pet waste, and properly disposing of garbage, he said. 

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Brendan Gibbons

Brendan Gibbons is a former senior reporter at the San Antonio Report. He serves as the assistant manager of the Greater Edwards Aquifer Alliance.