With a couple free hours on Friday to explore a new park, I headed to the Northeast Side. I expected to write a joint review of Friesenhan Park and McClain Park, both located near James Madison High School off O’Connor Road.

Friesenhahn surprised me, offering more to explore than I expected. It’s smaller and less well-known than McClain, a place I had previously visited with a friend to play disc golf. Yet exploring Friesenhahn still made me feel like I was venturing into a sanctuary in the middle of suburbia.

An hour was enough to explore most of the small park. Not everyone will want to drive across the city to visit, but it’s definitely worth it for anyone living nearby.

Friesenhahn Park

Offers: Hiking, biking
Location: 15701 O’Connor Rd.
Trail miles: 0.8 miles of concrete trail, more than 0.35 miles of unpaved dirt trail.
Restrooms: Portable toilets and potable water at park entrance.

The park’s northeastern half is mowed, with tall oaks, pavilions, benches, and barbecue grates that make it look like any other traditional park. For more than a decade, the trail used to end in a loop near a pond formed by an earthen dam, with only a dirt two-track path continuing into the woods.

Within the last six months, Parks crews finished adding another 1/3 mile of concrete path that plunges into the woods in the park’s southwestern half. The area feels like a nature preserve tucked between a rail line and a power line.

This path offers a quiet walk under shady trees, through small meadows of wildflowers, and across a muddy, rocky creek bed crossing that likely swells with water during heavy rains. In some spots, thin hedges of 7-foot-tall sunflowers line both sides of the path.

Parkgoers can stay on the trail, or take a little detour onto one of the many half-trails and traces that lead off into the woods. I turned right to explore the trails north of the path, following one trace to the top of the dam that forms the tiny pond.

One branch led to the edge of the woods joining a different path that follows the right-of-way for the towering high-voltage lines between O’Connor and Classen roads. Another branch led along a muddy creek bed, where the ground in some places came alive with tiny frogs leaping out of the way of my tentative steps.

I followed that branch to the southwest, where the woods were dark and choked with invasive Ligustrum trees and occasional trash. The crush of my feet on rocks and twigs flushed out a coyote, a doe, and some kind of hawk or owl.

Sunflowers line both sides of a newly built concrete path at Friesenhahn Park on San Antonio's Northeast Side.
Sunflowers line both sides of a newly built concrete path at Friesenhahn Park on San Antonio’s Northeast Side. Credit: Brendan Gibbons / San Antonio Report

The woods on the south side of the concrete trail are more open, full of native cedar elms, hackberries, oaks, and mesquite. Grass and forbs were shin-high in some places, and I walked carefully to avoid snakes.

After an hour tromping through Friesenhahn under the July sun, I was drenched in sweat and covered in mosquito bites. I plan to come back in the fall, when the temperature drops, the vegetation falls back, and the cedar elms turn gold.

Brendan Gibbons is a former senior reporter at the San Antonio Report. He is an environmental journalist for Oil & Gas Watch.