When driving along the southern stretch of the San Antonio River one cannot help but notice the sudden decrease in favorable scenery past Lone Star Boulevard. A fast-moving, nearly empty river rushes past as various hues of brown, bare trees, and dusty roadways provide the bulk of what to look at in the area. From 1954 into the 1990s, the U.S. Corps of Engineers manipulated the river with one thought in mind: flood control. The once-winding river was straightened out between sharp banks. And while it certainly reduced flooding, it all but eliminated the wildlife. “They didn’t consider the wildlife when they planned it out,” San Antonio River Authority spokesperson Steven Schauer said. “They thought the best way to handle the water was to make the river go as fast as possible. It helped with flooding, but wildlife needs ripples and runs.”
To rectify this loss of wildlife and scenery, San Antonio and Bexar County have embarked on a $348-million project to expand downtown’s River Walk eight miles south, with the restoration of natural habitat in mind while still maintaining the river’s flood-control function. “It’s first and foremost an ecosystem restoration project,” Schauer said. “But this won’t just be for the trees and the fish. When it’s done, it will be a beautiful stretch for recreation.”
Bike and hiking trails have already begun to line the river behind the Blue Star Contemporary Art Center and a grand opening for the first mile of the project will be held between March and April this year. Including the northern expansion of the River Walk completed last year, come 2013 the trails will span 15 miles — from Brackenridge Park on the north to Mission Espada on the south. And with the River Walk already a major tourist attraction for the city, the expansion has received nothing but positive reviews from the San Antonio Convention and Visitors Bureau. “It’s a one-of-a-kind draw for us and it makes us very unique,” CVB Community Relations Manager Karina Alderete said. “It provides a different look and experience for people who live here and a big attraction for those who visit.”
Becky Harriman, a frequent user of the River Walk, echoed Alderete, saying she looks forward to exploring the expanded trail once it’s complete. “I’m always using the River Walk for one reason or another; it’s great we have it,” Harriman said. “I think it’s going to be a great addition once all the work’s finished up, and I really appreciate all the efforts done in the past to clean the river up.” Visit the San Antonio River Authority’s website at sara-tx.org for updates.