A deluge of government funding has transformed formerly flood-prone creeks on the West Side into recreational spaces, with the potential to eventually serve as a conduit between downtown and the distant Leon Creek Greenway.

The Westside Creek greenways are made up of nearly 10 miles of concrete trail along Alazan, Apache, Martinez and Zarzamora creeks, which flow through the inner-city neighborhoods west of downtown. Because of flood-control projects in the 1950s, these creeks look like trapezoid-shaped drainage ditches, often lined with concrete. Despite these human influences, I often see birds like egrets and night herons stepping through the shallow waters, hunting fish, crawdads and frogs.

Westside Creek trails

Offers: Walking, running, biking
Location: Numerous trailheads on the West Side. Main trailheads and amenities near Woodlawn Lake Park (115 Alexander Ave, San Antonio, TX 78201 for Alazán Creek), Elmendorf Lake Park (3700 W Commerce St, San Antonio, TX 78207 for Apache Creek), and Northwest 29th St. (29.434107, -98.551473 for Zarzamora Creek).
Trail miles: 9.7 miles of concrete trail
Restrooms: Restrooms and drinking water available at Woodlawn Lake Park and Elmendorf Lake Park, water fountains at most trailheads on all trails. 

These trails provide a much-needed link between the West Side and downtown, because of the connection to the San Antonio River at the Mission Reach.

Westside residents could easily walk or bike to work downtown following these pathways without having to traverse any of the dangerous, car-dominated streets. Hopefully, an eventual Martinez Creek extension north of Fredericksburg Road could provide a safe conduit to neighborhoods north of downtown.

This part of the West Side is undergoing major changes, in part due to public investment in the greenways and the accompanying gentrification of nearby neighborhoods. Long passed over for funding and resources through most of the 19th and 20th centuries, local and federal officials have now turned their attention to these creeks and are pouring money into building new greenways and restoring wildlife habitat.

I chronicled some of these conflicts during my time as a local reporter, including the inherent debate over the consequences that flow from public investment — rising property values, aggressive tactics by real estate speculators and the displacement of residents who have lived in these neighborhoods for generations. One related issue was a conflict between the San Antonio Water System and owners of a Mexican restaurant on Laredo Street where SAWS wanted to put a sewage lift station as part of an infrastructure upgrade for the area.

The transformation of the creeks has happened relatively quickly. In 2017, I interviewed a longtime local resident and former member of the Westside Creeks Restoration Oversight Committee who expressed skepticism that the trails would ever become popular with locals, who he said considered them only places for drinking and drug use. But six years later, it’s clear that the trails have indeed changed the area. Many of the encampments of homeless people living alongside the creeks have disappeared as more residents use the trails and police patrol the areas on ATVs. The space now looks more like other greenways in San Antonio, with couples and children walking and riding bikes, families doing graduation or quinceañera photoshoots, and people hanging out and fishing underneath the bridges.

High-mileage riders like me, with our spandex shorts and bike computers, are still an anomaly. But that will probably change as more people from other parts of the city start accessing the trail network. I’m not a real-estate speculator (I don’t even own a home), but I understand that my very presence, for some people, symbolizes that gentrification problem. I try to be courteous and not act like I own the place — I ride slowly when approaching people, I call out “passing on your left,” and I say thank you when they let me pass.

I also try to make a positive contribution to the neighborhood, however small. River Aid San Antonio, the local stewardship nonprofit where I serve as a board member, has held at least six trash cleanup events along Alazán Creek, where we’ve hauled out thousands of pounds of trash.

Last week, on my latest ride through the greenways, I noticed that there appeared to be much less trash there than on our first visit, even after recent downpours. On that ride, I wanted to visit all the completed stretches of trail.

I started by tracing the 0.6-mile section of the Martinez Creek trail that stretches from Fredericksburg Road to Cincinnati Avenue. Though short, this section offers some attractive examples of native prairie plants and trees, with wildflowers in bloom this time of year.

The 0.6-mile Martinez Creek trail includes native prairie plants and trees.
The 0.6-mile Martinez Creek trail includes native prairie plants and trees. Credit: Brendan Gibbons / San Antonio Report

From there, I rode west four blocks along Cincinnati to Woodlawn Lake Park, then got on the northern end of the Alazán Creek greenway. That trail extends 3.3 miles from a trailhead on Texas Avenue to the intersection with the Apache Creek trail just north of the Laredo Street bridge.

I continued heading south along the Apache Creek greenway. Near the massive Interstate 10 expressway that looms over the trail, the San Antonio River Authority is working on extending the San Pedro Creek trail from San Pedro Creek Culture Park. Crews have already brought that trail as far south as César Chávez Boulevard and are working on the southernmost segments between Guadalupe Street and the confluence of San Pedro and Apache creeks.

Phase 4, the final phase of that project, near El Paso Street, is still in the planning stage. At that point, the trail officially becomes the San Pedro Creek greenway and extends 1.7 miles to the Mission Reach of the San Antonio River, with the intersection just south of Confluence Park. I turned around and headed back north again, this time to follow the Apache Creek Greenway to Elmendorf Lake Park.

The 4.4-mile ride along Apache Creek is my favorite stretch of the Westside Creeks.

Completed years before the Alazán Creek Greenway, this stretch of trail feels more established and like part of the neighborhood. It passes Escobar and Cassiano parks and a small baseball field near the San Luis Street trailhead where I saw children and their dads playing ball together. Navigating around Elmendorf Lake Park, a high pedestrian area, can be a little tricky. I found the best path to be on the southern and western side of the lake, closer to Our Lady of the Lake University, where there’s less foot traffic.

When heading north on the Apache Creek Greenway, cross Southwest 19th Street and turn left, heading south to cross over the creek just below the dam. The trail access will be on the right, with a set of stairs and a wheelchair-accessible ramp. From there, it’s 1.3 miles around the lake to the bridge that connects to the trailhead at Northwest 29th Street.

This marks the beginning of the Zarzamora Creek Greenway, which extends 1.4 miles west along that creek. Though tree-lined for the first few hundred feet, after crossing under General McMullen Drive, the creek returns to the familiar trapezoidal channel with no shade.

I had originally assumed that Zarzamora and Apache were names for different segments of the same creek. In fact, Apache Creek converges with Zarzamora Creek at Zarzamora Creek Park, just upstream of Elmendorf Lake Park. Upstream of that, Apache Creek is basically a concrete channel running under Martin Street, through Rosedale Park, all the way to the St. Mary’s University campus. Zarzamora Creek, on the other hand, originates farther to the west, in the Ingram Hills area. City and county officials have plans to extend the trail west all the way to Ingram Road, then under Loop 410 to connect to the Leon Creek Greenway near the Ingram Transit Center.

A map shows the future trail connecting Zarzamora Creek to Leon Creek with a trail extending westward to Ingram Road, then under Loop 410.
A map shows a future trail connecting Zarzamora Creek to Leon Creek with a trail extending west to Ingram Road, then under Loop 410. Credit: Courtesy of the City of San Antonio

This connection will be a huge milestone for local efforts to stitch together this network of greenway trails. Once complete, a cyclist could ride from the Mission Reach and follow the greenways along San Pedro Creek, Apache Creek, Zarzamora Creek and Leon Creek all the way to Eisenhower Park, then back down the Salado Creek Greenway as far south as Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston.

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