The trail that strings together Beacon Hill Neighborhood Linear Park may be the shortest trail I’ve ever written about for this series, but it still made a big impression on me.
Last week, I met up with Jerry Lockey, a longtime Beacon Hill Neighborhood Association member, at the community garden on Gramercy Place and Capitol Avenue. The garden, one of the original Green Spaces Alliance of South Texas community gardens launched in the early 2000s, is also the trail’s southernmost point.
Beacon Hill linear park
Offers: Walking trail, playgrounds, basketball court
Location: Beacon Hill Community Garden (1144 W Gramercy Pl.) to Hildebrand Avenue (922 W. Hildebrand Ave.)
Trail miles: Roughly 0.6 miles of mixed surface trails, streets, and sidewalks
Restrooms: Water fountains at Gramercy Place and Capitol Avenue.
For the association, assembling the trail over the years has been a bit like gardening, with residents negotiating with the city for funding slowly over many years, said Lockey, a retired medical technology professional who has lived in the neighborhood since 1996. Bit by bit, they’ve added length and features to the trail, which extends diagonally across the neighborhood to Hildebrand Avenue.
By my reckoning, this trail is unique in the San Antonio area. No other neighborhood park has been quilted together over so many years, through streets and empty lots, crossing behind backyard fences, built right into the neighborhood it serves.
The whole idea came about because of the underground stormwater tunnel below the neighborhood, Lockey explained. Beneath the linear park runs a gigantic stormwater conveyance structure. At the surface, the only signs are the concrete inlets poking up from the grass, offering flash floods a place to flow underground.
Neighbors had originally envisioned cleaning up these unused lots and turning them into parks, Lockey said. They had also gotten a bunch of free trees from the city, he said, and planted them in what would eventually become the community garden.
“We carried trash cans of water out there,” he said. “We used the bucket brigade to water them all through that summer.”
When they checked on them later that fall, “the city had mowed them all down,” he said.
The park has come a long way since then. In 2013, the city opened the first four or five lots, and the trail has expanded to a little more than a half-mile. I first got curious about the park when visiting the Evergreen Garden Center, which essentially shares a parking lot with the northern trailhead on Hildebrand. Between there and the community garden, the trail crosses seven mini-parks on its diagonal route through the neighborhood.
Because of its slow, iterative construction over the years, the trail’s surfaces are ever-changing. Sometimes the Beacon Hill Linear Neighborhood Park trail is asphalt path. Sometimes it’s a street. Sometimes it’s a path of decomposed granite. Other times, it’s a well-trodden patch of grass.
Lockey and I walked the path together Wednesday evening. People were using nearly every park along the way — young men playing basketball, older men sitting on benches under a tree, an old woman and a toddler playing at a playground and a group of kids having an epic Nerf gun war.
“Ten blocks is all it is,” Lockey said as we walked. “But it’s right through the neighborhood.”
The association still plans to keep adding to the park. Lockey pointed out a recent addition to the park, a former empty lot near the community garden. Residents filled the lot with native plants and built a small petanque court (I had never heard of it, but apparently it’s like a French version of bocce).
With Hildebrand as the northern boundary of the Beacon Hill neighborhood, Lockey said the trail likely won’t likely push any farther north. The only way to extend it would be to connect it to the Martinez Creek trail toward the south.
For now, plans are to continue improving the existing park. Another batch of trees is also headed for the park, funded by the 2017-2022 bond, Lockey said. He wanted me to convey his gratitude to the City Council members and Parks and Recreation Department staff who have worked with them over the years.
“It’s good to let people know the government does do some good things,” he said.