Courtesy / Ramon Hernandez
Although I always knew Elmendorf Lake Park existed, I was unfamiliar with its history and hidden beauty. Like countless other San Antonians, I had driven by the park numerous times, but had never taken the time to visit it.
After taking a tour of Elmendorf , located at 3700 W. Commerce St., I wrote in 2014 that the park is “a hidden gem on the Westside.” Others, including two local politicians, have reached the same conclusion.
Since my original visit, restoration efforts managed by the San Antonio River Authority to the tune of $14 million, approved by voters through the 2012 bond and jointly funded by the City and the County, have almost been completed.
I attended the opening ceremony in late January: it was a sunny Saturday morning and hundreds of people flocked to the newly restored park to enjoy amenities such as bike trails, splash pads, seating areas, picnic tables, and more.
Many credit community activist and former River Authority board member Roberto Rodriguez with having the foresight and fortitude to advocate for upgrades to Elmendorf Lake Park, and the Westside Creeks Restoration Oversight Committee for transforming it into the beautiful site it is today. Its co-chairs, Olga Lizcano and Robert Ramirez, saw through their decade-long vision of creating a park in which families living on the Westside could enjoy quality time together, play, and feel safe.
Their hard work paid off as Elmendorf now rivals any park in the city. The grounds have been transformed to include a vast lake with a bird sanctuary that allows for ducks swimming by or people kayaking in the water.
As I walked through the park on that Saturday morning, a family that had been coming to the park for years was unpacking a picnic on one of the new picnic tables – they were thrilled with the park’s transformation.
Children climbed about the new playground and ran through the water jets in the splash pad as bikers and walkers shared the trails. The park’s fields lend themselves to anyone wishing to play softball, football, or soccer. Live music filled the area, and the opening ceremony ended with an impressive firework display.
Elmendorf’s main entrance is now a colorful sight with mosaic tile covering the concrete seating areas, and avid fishers can now utilize the fishing pier as the lake has been repopulated with fish.
I have made subsequent visits to Elmendorf, including a couple of evening visits. The park looks spectacular at night thanks to ample lighting that made me feel safe walking through it.
During one evening visit, there were more than 100 parents and children spending quality time together in the park. It was beautiful to hear the children laugh as they ran about the playground. Whoever designed the seating for parents to be in close proximity to their children’s amenities had great foresight.
It also was encouraging to see families enjoying the new amenities, such as bike trails, picnic areas with covered shelter, exercise stations, pedestrian bridges, improved lighting, lake fountains that illuminate different colors at night, and a floating pier. The park’s improvements are likely to be enjoyed by the students at Our Lady of the Lake University.
Protection of the environment is evident in many of these improvements. Among them are rain gardens that will reduce the speed of flash flooding and benefit plants and animals by removing toxins, pollutants, and bioswales. There also are landscape elements that are designed to concentrate or remove salt and impurities from surface runoff water. Additionally, water will be recirculated through a wetland adding to the movement of the lake’s water.
The new park includes expanded parking in a pervious lot that, according to River Authority engineer Jeff Taylor, “allows water to percolate into the ground instead of flowing directly into the lake. It will trap sediments and acts as a filter.”
The only amenity missing from Elmendorf Lake Park at this time is a new swimming pool. As part of the park’s restoration work, the existing pool was demolished. Sufficient funds were lacking from the previous bond to allow for a new swimming pool to be built, but plans are in place to build a competitive-size pool, bringing the possibility of swim meets for all residents.
According to Ramirez, funds to pay for the new swimming pool would be allocated from the 2017 Municipal Bond election scheduled for May 6. If voters approve the bond, the pool could be completed by 2019 at a cost of $2 million.
If you haven’t visited Elmendorf Lake Park yet, I suggest that you do. How long has it been since you’ve planned a picnic with your family or friends? How long has it been since you made time for yourself, or enjoyed reading a book on a park bench with the view of a lake in the background? You can do these things and more at Elmendorf Lake Park, a family-oriented and safe environment.