Sometimes progress feels endlessly incremental. In a 1,000-piece puzzle, piece No. 476 doesn’t feel significant.
That’s at times how it’s felt watching the build-out of San Antonio’s linear creekways system over the past several years. Mile by painstaking mile, the City, Bexar County, and the San Antonio River Authority have made incremental progress on expanding concrete paths along local waterways, such as the San Antonio River and Leon and Salado creeks.
However, the completion of 4.1 miles on the southern end of the Mission Reach trail is a good time to step back and look at the bigger picture. The City’s newest completed trail section joins the Mission Reach to the roughly 10-mile Medina River system. That Medina system runs from Medina River Natural Area, along the Medina River, past Mitchell Lake, and ending at Mattox Park near Mission del Lago.
“This is not just the completion of a trail,” Brandon Ross, special projects manager with San Antonio’s Parks and Recreation Department, said during a bike ride last week along the trail, which winds from Camino Coahuilteca to U.S. Highway 281.
“It’s the completion of the full system,” he continued.
Mission Reach to Mattox Park greenway trail connector
Offers: Hiking, biking.
Location: Trailhead on Camino Coahuilteca at 29.318048, -98.447958, 7.9 miles from Main Plaza.
Trail miles: 4.1 miles of concrete trail.
Restrooms: Toilets and running water at Mission Espada. Neither on trail itself.
Ross was referring to the joining of two concrete trails that parallel San Antonio’s two river systems, the San Antonio and the Medina. It’s now possible to walk, run, or ride a bike from Brackenridge Park all the way to Medina River Natural Area on the South Side, a more than 35-mile journey roundtrip.
Technically, one piece remains before the trail can officially be called complete. The Texas Department of Transportation is set to build a pedestrian-friendly intersection that joins the trailhead on the east side of U.S. 281 to Mattox Park on the west side. That could be finished as soon as June, Ross said.
The connection is a significant step along the larger journey of uniting all of San Antonio’s roughly 70 miles of greenway trails. Some of the still-missing pieces will join the Leon and Salado creek systems at Eisenhower Park, stitch together trails along the West Side creeks, and connect Salado Creek to the Mission Reach.
During our ride, which took us along shady pecan groves and sunny fields of mesquite and wildflowers, Ross remarked on how these creeks eventually run together in the watershed. Because we live in Flash Flood Alley, landowners can’t effectively build alongside these creeks and rivers, making them perfect spaces for trails.
“From the beginning of creation, we just almost had this thing tailor-made,” he said.
Most of the Mission Reach never takes users out of sight of the river. The last 4 miles is different. The concrete path veers west, over a bridge spanning the Espada Acequia, and through a series of what were once farm fields and pasture.
The trail then climbs a hill and starts to parallel Cassin Lake, a private waterbody lined with marsh plants. White egret heads poked out of the greenery to watch us as we rode past.
The land belongs to retailer TJ Maxx, which operates a 1,000-employee distribution center on the other side of the lake. The company allowed the City access to a trail easement on its land, following the typical San Antonio pattern of a public trail surrounded by private land.
Ross and his fellow Parks employees have been negotiating these easements one by one. It’s often painstaking work, bringing together parties with disparate interests.
“It just requires a lot of patience,” Ross told me. “The people in San Antonio have been very gracious in carrying the same level of patience that I carry. Because everybody wants to see it open.”
Never has the trail system paid off more than during the coronavirus pandemic. With outdoor spaces from state parks to skate parks closed to prevent its spread, the trails have remained open. They’re the perfect places to be outside while socially distanced.
Speaking of which, the Parks team wanted me to ask you to please keep up the distancing on the trails. People who don’t live in the same household should continue to maintain 6 feet of distancing. When passing strangers from behind, you should give a call of “passing on your left,” while giving them plenty of space.
One last thing: The Trailist recommends bringing plenty of water for this section of trail, where shade is scarce. The San Antonio Water System has not yet put in a drinking fountain on the 281 trailhead, Ross said. That’s one of the missing pieces that will eventually fall into place.