Edmond Ortiz / For the Rivard Report
A splash pad. Natural trails adequate for mountain biking. A place for environmental education. Soccer fields.
These are just some of the ideas that Stone Oak-area residents have in mind for the new Classen-Steubing Ranch Park.
The City has begun an anticipated seven-month conceptual design phase for the development of more than 39 acres of public park space, which lies both within the largest piece of undeveloped land in Stone Oak and the Edwards Aquifer recharge zone.
The City in 2016 agreed to use $5.3 million in funds from the Edwards Aquifer protection program to buy 160 acres of former Classen-Steubing family ranch land. The City also used $1 million from the Hardy Oak Boulevard extension to acquire an additional 5.3 acres. The City is expected to finish the nearby extensions of Hardy Oak and Huebner Road in December.
Further, voter passage of the 2017 City bond included $9.1 million to secure and begin developing the public park acreage. Outside of the park, the aforementioned 160 acres will remain undeveloped.
Representatives from the City of San Antonio’s Transportation and Capital Improvements Department and Parks and Recreation Department joined more than 50 residents, City Councilman John Courage (D9), and Joe Krier, Courage’s predecessor on the council, for a public meeting Tuesday at Wayside Chapel.
While residential and commercial growth continue on the far Northside, many Stone Oak residents over the years have complained they have lack easy access public recreational amenities, Courage said.
“This will be a great new additional amenity to our community here,” Courage told the crowd. “District 9 has the fewest parks of all the City Council districts.”
“We’re going to do everything we can to make sure this is the best park that we can possibly build for the area,” Courage added.
Tuesday’s meeting was designed as a forum for residents’ ideas, said Mark Wittlinger, project manager and landscape architect with the City’s Transportation and Capital Improvements Department.
“What do you want to see this park become?” Wittlinger asked. “We’re just here to generate ideas, brainstorm. Nothing’s off the table at this point.”
Several audience members suggested ideas. Yolanda Adams suggested a water splash pad for small children, similar to features at Pearsall Park and Hemisfair.
“Think of mothers with small children who don’t have a place to take them in the summer months,” she said. Others agreed. One woman called the Pearsall Park splash pads “amazing, but it’s a half-hour drive, and that’s not usually doable with my kids.”
One boy suggested building a playground, soccer fields, and a splash pad. A few more people mentioned soccer, baseball, and softball fields.
“This is an opportunity to build ball fields and soccer fields that are free for kids to use,” Bill Bailey said. “Using the YMCA fields, even if they are on parkland, it costs money to join on a monthly basis.”
Krier, who as a council member was instrumental in advancing the land agreement between the City and the Classen-Steubing family, agreed there’s a need for free, public ball fields in the Stone Oak area.
“If there’s one thing I heard over and over from people in District 9, [it] is, ‘We need free places for our kids to play softball and soccer,'” he said. “There was always the thought that this chunk of land – and there’s a lot of land – would be utilized for that purpose.”
Resident Heather Hansen, who is starting a nonprofit dedicated to environmental education, said the new park would be an opportunity for outdoors, interactive learning for young families.
“How to care for the environment, how to connect and understand our own participation with the environment, and how it supports us and how we support and care for it – there’s a wide range of things we’d like to do,” Hansen said.
A few people at the meeting said they hope the park will include a variety of surface trails for hiking, from paved to natural. Other attendees suggested more challenging trails for mountain bikers and more challenging fitness stations.
Courage said the $5.2 million left over from the public park land purchase may not be enough to provide all or even most of the residents’ desired park features, but that it would be “a good start.”
A group called Friends of Classen-Steubing Park, recently launched to promote conservation, management and improvements of the park. It is affiliated with the San Antonio Parks Foundation’s Friends of the Park program.
“What we’d like to do is act as a focal point for public input,” said Art Downey, who is the group’s interim president.
Wittlinger said the City would invite residents to a follow-up public meeting and short walking tour of the park on a Saturday in May, with additional details still to be determined.
The full park design will be created between January 2019 and March 2020, with construction underway from August 2020 to September 2021.