Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report
On any given day, dozens of hikers, walkers, and joggers of all ages can be seen up and down the trails of Dwight D. Eisenhower Park, a sprawling, City-owned nature preserve on San Antonio’s far North Side adjacent to Camp Bullis outside of Loop 1604.
Currently, the Greenway Trails System contains trails along several stream corridors, including Medina River Greenway System, Westside Creeks and Center City Trails, Leon Creek Greenway System, and Salado Creek Greenway System, with trails designed to connect to one another to create a single greenway system that circles the city’s perimeter.
The latest expansion for the City-run trail network, called Howard W. Peak Greenway Trail System, is underway in Eisenhower Park with the goal of developing a “ring” of hike and bike trails in flood zones along San Antonio creeks that also increase access to local parks.
The San Antonio Parks department is currently preparing to pave four miles of Eisenhower Park’s Hillview Natural Trail, which will continue west toward the Valero Park Trailhead near the University of Texas at San Antonio main campus. From there, it will continue along the Leon Creek Greenway System through the West Side. Overall the section will be about 18 miles.
Once paved, the Hillview Natural Trail will allow bicycle traffic, which already occurs but is currently prohibited.
Brandon Ross, project manager for the Greenway Trail System, said he expects more people to visit the park once the Salado and Leon Creek connection is complete, which will take about a year.
“This is some of the most beautiful property in the City, and making these trail connections with parks, and making entrances with walkable access to the Greenway provides an opportunity for a family to adventure safely from one to another, and increase the number of visitors [to San Antonio parks]” Ross said.
Ross, who started with the City of San Antonio Parks Department in 2006, leads a team attempting to bring to life former Mayor Howard W. Peak’s vision for a city-wide greenway trail that connects residents and promotes the physical and practical benefits of recreational and commuter trail use.
Peak, an urban planner by trade, formulated the Greenway Trails plan while working in the City’s Planning Department and while serving on the Zoning Commission in the 1990s. He worked with then-City Council members to purchase the initial land, which began the trail system in Walker Ranch Historic Landmark Park.
As mayor from 1997 to 2001, Peak solidified his vision of hike and bike trails along Leon and Salado Creeks in partnership with the Edwards Aquifer Program and won citizen support to dedicate one-eighth of a cent sales tax on every dollar spent in the City limits for creekway and aquifer protection projects. The plan was first approved by voters in 2000 and raised $20 million to fund 11 miles of trails. In 2005, Peak led a campaign to renew the tax, which raised $45 million to add 38 miles of trails.
In 2010, voters again approved the continuation of the sales tax designation to build an additional 30 miles of trail, and secured enough funding to afford 89 miles of planned trails for an overall system goal that could ultimately yield 130 miles of hike and bike trails along the creekways.
“I don’t think we knew how successful it would be when the first [sales tax initiative] passed,” Ross said. “But San Antonio voters have shown they are consistent with their commitment to the value of these projects.”
Approximately 1,200 acres of property along San Antonio creekways has been acquired for the program since its inception. Sales tax revenue has enabled the protection of 96,000 critical acres above the aquifer, both through land purchases or conservation easements.
Ross said four members of his team are devoted to designing and constructing the Greenway Trail System, and one person works on land acquisition and planning. Trail construction began in 2008, and so far, 65 miles of paved trail has been developed along the Medina and San Antonio Rivers, and Leon and Salado Creeks; currently, 17 miles of trails are under construction with more planned, Ross said.
In addition to construction project management, Ross’s team works closely with City biologists and naturalists to ensure their work has little impact on San Antonio’s nature preserves.
Grant Ellis, natural resources manager with the Parks and Recreation Department, told the Rivard Report that efforts to preserve and manage the plant and wildlife diversity at Eisenhower Park have been going on since it opened to the public in 1988.
“We work to maintain and manage the land for the diversity of the native plants that it has present,” including native grasses, trees, and wildflowers. “We also have a lot of native wildlife such as armadillo, deer, raccoons, skunks, and as the weather warms up, we will be visited by snakes emerging from slumber.”
Ellis oversees the team that ensures park safety and maintenance once trails are constructed, which includes educating visitors about the importance of preserving and respecting the marked trails.
“We want people to be informed about the native diversity in the area so that they want to help us maintain the natural areas in the city for species like the endangered golden-cheeked warbler,” which reside in Eisenhower Park.
Construction of the entire Howard W. Peak Greenway Trail System is expected to be completed by 2021 with the exception of a small “spur trail” stemming out of Eisenhower Park and taking users slightly North up to Raymond Russel Park, Ross said.
“I have spent the last 12 years walking parks, trying to find connections that will help bring people together,” Ross said. “The best part about my job is being able to come out to the trails anonymously and see families and the elderly and children being able to use the trails and seeing the smiles on their faces. Seeing people enjoy what was created through this program brings me a lot of joy.”