The U.S. 281/Basse Road entry point to the new Olmos Basin Park trail is clearly marked at Devine Road. Photo by Edmond Ortiz.

For 14 years, San Antonians and City leaders have supported a plan to circle the entire city with more than 130 miles of trails along tributaries, neighborhood connections, and the San Antonio River. The city got one trail closer to fulfilling that goal Tuesday with a ribbon cutting ceremony to mark a new hike-and-bike trail in Olmos Basin Park, one of the city’s largest parks.

There are cosmetic final touches to be completed, but park visitors have already been using the new paved trail that measures less than one mile from the Basse Road/U.S. 281 junction to Dick Friedrich Street, across from St. Luke’s Episcopal Church.

It’s the newest segment of San Antonio’s Howard W. Peak Greenway Trail System, named after the former city council member and mayor who continues to advocate enhancing the city’s inventory of trails and greenspaces. The city’s Linear Creekway Parks Development Program has allocated $990,000 towards developing this trail so far.

The Linear Creekway Parks Development Program provides sales tax funding for land acquisition and trail development. Every five years, starting in 2000, San Antonio voters are asked to approve a 1/8-cent sales tax to continue funding the program. Local voters will consider renewing the sales tax again on the May 9 City Election ballot via Proposition 2. Early voting began Monday and ends on Tuesday, May 5. When the polls closed this Tuesday evening, 11,302 votes had been cast in person so far.

“(In prior elections), voters have sent an overwhelming message that these are important quality of life  issues, that the trail system is a huge asset to the community,” said Xavier Urrutia, director of the San Antonio Parks and Recreation Department.

(From right to left with shears in hand) Councilmember Roberto Treviño (D1), former Mayor Howard Peak,Parks and Recreation Special Projects Manager Brandon Ross, and Parks and Recreation Director Xavier Urrutia cut the ceremonial ribbon for the Olmos Basin Park trailway.
(From right to left with shears in hand) Councilmember Roberto Treviño (D1), former Mayor Howard Peak, Parks and Recreation Special Projects Manager Brandon Ross, and Parks and Recreation Director Xavier Urrutia cut the ceremonial ribbon for the Olmos Basin Park trailway.

If approved, the program will receive up to $80 million over the next five years. That would be a substantial increase from $45 million in each of the propositions that voters approved in 2005 and 2010, and the $20 million approved in 2000. Forty-seven miles of trails have been built so far with 39 more miles planned.

“It’s taken a long time, as often most things do, and when the city is completely done here, it’s off to another project,” Peak said at the ribbon-cutting ceremony. “The city is doing some great things.”

Urrutia echoed Peak’s sentiment, saying openings of trails and other greenspaces have become more commonplace – “par for the course” – as such trails begin to link more and more neighborhoods together. He also said the city is leveraging Olmos Basin Park’s size and location, north of downtown and close to the San Antonio River headwaters, to the benefit of area residents. The trail is just the newest of many more recreational amenities to come.

Water from recent rains beneath the bridge at the new Olmos Basin Park trail. Photo by Edmond Ortiz.
Water from recent rains beneath the bridge at the new Olmos Basin Park trail. Photo by Edmond Ortiz.

“At the end of the day it’s really about people connecting with other people,” Urrutia added.

City officials have said the Peak Greenway System has helped to cut down on the amount of garbage and contaminants entering creeks and rivers, resulting in healthier creekside neighborhoods and improved recreational opportunities. Work began last week on one of three creekside hike-and-bike trails in the near Westside.

Councilmember Roberto C. Treviño (D1), who lives near Olmos Basin Park, said he’s thrilled to have improved amenities in his neighborhood.

“There are so many benefits and so many things we can identify with. Ultimately it’s about community,” Treviño said. He added that this new trail, among others in the area, should encourage residents of all ages to go outside, exercise, and enjoy nature in an urban setting.

“This is a way to foster community. We want to get people outdoors, experience our great parks and enjoy the connectivity that’s being provided,” he said.

The new Olmos Basin Park trail. Photo by Edmond Ortiz.
The new Olmos Basin Park trail. Photo by Edmond Ortiz.

And it’s not just San Antonio residents who seek to enjoy greenspaces. Ida Spence lives on the western side of Alamo Heights, near Olmos Basin Park. She has spent years volunteering time to help clean garbage and debris along parts of Olmos Creek.

Spence said she’s familiar with the area’s prehistory. It’s a place where archaeologists have found Paleo-Indian projectile points more than 11,000 years old, along with burned rock middens and other lithic debris. According to archaeologists, the Olmos Basin and its springs were a place where over the centuries countless tribes and other groups hunted for food, gathered for socializing and even buried their dead.

Paul Marceaux, director of the University of Texas at San Antonio’s Center for Archaeological Research, said it’s an area rich with prehistory. He explained the period to which area Paleo-Indians were present is characterized by the numerous Lanceolate, or triangular, projectile points found in the headwaters area over the decades.

Marceaux also acknowledged that, depending on the time period and tribe, the dead were laid to rest in different ways along the creekway.

“Some were buried in an egalitarian way, meaning they were dealt with in the same way equally. In other times, burial was based on social stratus,” he added.

Bison and mammoth are among the large mammals that dominated the area before humans further developed their hunting skills. Marceaux said with so many tribes moving in and out of the area, and countless floods and other major events along the San Antonio River hundreds and thousands of years ago, it’s likely more artifacts could be found.

“Soil is moved and removed with rising and lowering of river levels, so it’s possible much more evidence of tribes and other groups is deeply buried there,” he added.

But Spence also is familiar with the area’s more modern history. A structure built by Girl Scouts, meant for a variety of events, still stands. Spence often volunteers with local troops for clean-up sessions along parts of Olmos Creek. Most of all, she said, being close by provides an opportunity for Spence and her family to appreciate nature, the neighborhood, and exercise.

“My grandson comes down here to play. He’s 2 and he and I have the best time. You can bring your dog here. When my husband was alive, this was his favorite haunt,” Spence said. “This provides a safe way to walk from here to the Alamo Quarry Market. It’s a big, encouraging sign in many ways.”

*Featured/top image: The U.S. 281/Basse Road entry point to the new Olmos Basin Park trail is clearly marked at Devine Road. Photo by Edmond Ortiz.

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Edmond Ortiz

Edmond Ortiz

Edmond Ortiz, a lifelong San Antonian, is a freelance reporter/editor who has worked with the San Antonio Express-News and Prime Time Newspapers.