Councilman Rey Saldaña (D4) walked through the vast fields of Pearsall Park Monday morning, stopping to swing from ring to ring on playground equipment and run a 40-yard dash in 7.23 seconds – all while wearing a tie – to give people a taste of the revitalized park. The relatively quiet, 505-acre park will be filled with families and friends starting this Saturday when it officially reopens to the public, just as thousands of students begin to enjoy their summer breaks.
The festivities will begin at 8 a.m. with a 5K marathon and Saldaña expects 2,000 people to show up for the race alone. Construction crews will be working throughout the week on deadline to complete dozens of the park's amenities.
The $8.1 million project transformed a former landfill and hundreds of acres of underutilized park land into a regional destination park just south of Lackland Air Force Base and Port San Antonio.
(Read More: Pearsall Park and the Ascent of the Southside)
Pearsall Park features 5K, 10K, and single loop half-marathon courses; BMX and mountain bike trails; a dog park; a zip line; a disc golf course; a basketball court; and a CrossFit pavilion all while boasting the largest splash pads, playground, and skate park in the city. It's topped off with two public art installations by renowned artist Buster Simpson: Wickiup Overlook and Wickiup Encampment.
Funding District 4's new park – which was built to become a park for all San Antonians – was no easy task. It devoured almost all of the district's 2012 park bond, money usually divvied up between smaller park improvement projects. Saldaña made the case for Pearsall Park to his constituents by describing a park that would become the pride of the district.
"We were calling it a park, (but) we were not doing justice to the name," Saldaña recalled the condition of the park in 2011. The former landfill, which closed in 1982, accounts for 231 acres of the park and the city purchased 268 acres from the Cox family for roughly $1 million, he said. The park also includes 26 acres of the Leon Creek Greenway. "With the 2012 bond coming around, it was going to offer an opportunity for us to actually put our money where our mouth is and put it into this park."
On Saturday, citizens will get to inspect their investment – though some neighbors have been seen walking along the trails.
"We've got thousands of community members that are climbing over the fence, ready for it," Saldaña said. "Once you get a bite of this park you're going to want more."
Pearsall Park, designed by landscape architecture firm Bender Wells Clark Design, has been organized into various "bubbles" of activity and focus: fitness, family fun, teenage-adult areas, nature trails connecting to the Leon Creek Greenway, bikes, dogs, and a wild area along the Leon Creek flood plane.
The hills that break up the landscape are actually mounds of trash – but Saldaña was quick to assure members of the media that joined him for a tour of the grounds that "it is completely safe."
The parkland has been monitored and inspected by the Environmental Protection Agency for more than 30 years since the landfill closed. Sustainable design and building practices have been used by the city that include reuse of materials as the metal canopies have been salvaged from the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center, drip irrigation system, water savvy plantings and solar-powered lighting at night.
This story was originally published on Monday, June 6.
Top image: Councilman Rey Saldana (D4) attempts to swing on chained rings in the fitness area of Pearsall Park. Photo by Scott Ball.