Home Susan Yerkes Growing greenways

Growing greenways

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Ten years ago, I made an ambitious pact with a friend to walk all of the Howard W. Peak Greenway Trails around San Antonio. So far, the system of “linear parks” has expanded more rapidly than we’ve been able to explore them.

But, I’m not giving up. Next on my list is the portion of the Leon Creek Greenway with a trailhead by The Rim. Opened last fall, it’s drawing rave reviews.

In fact, so far the feedback consistently has been enthusiastic for the paths. It’s what city planners call a “white hat” project — the kind uniting a community in support instead of dividing it. The “emerald necklace” forms a squiggly line of hike and bike trails along streams, rivers and creeks encircling the city. Salado Creek, the Medina River, Leon Creek, San Pedro Creek and several more small waterways and tributaries all provide ripe venues for the cool new park-like pathways. The completed trailheads are all on convenient roads where you can pull over, unpack a picnic or unload bikes, strollers or in-line skates (but not scooters).

This year, according to Brandon Ross, special projects manager for the city’s Parks and Recreation Department’s Linear Creekway Parks Program, five more segments of the greenway are being readied for completion: along Apache Creek; from the Medina River Crossing to Pleasanton Road; from Mattox Park to Mission Espada; from Confluence Park to the Mission Reach; and the long-awaited connector along the Salado from Loop 1604 to Eisenhower Park. By 2022, about 20 miles more will be built, according to Connie Swann, a spokeswoman for the parks department.

The greenway network, almost 70 miles long now, could climb past the century mark if all the planned segments are realized. It’s named for former Mayor Howard Peak, who envisaged a ring of nature trails encircling the city. An avid cyclist, Peak championed the project, which was funded in 2000 when voters approved a one-eighth-cent sales tax.

And yes, it’s the same fractional levy the electorate has OK’d every five years since, which also provides money for the Edwards Aquifer Protection Program. Since 2000, the tax has raised about $190 million, with some $80 million applied to the greenway trails. That’s the same one-eighth-cent city and Bexar County leaders hope to divert to VIA’s future transportation plans when the proposition comes up for renewal in the November election.

There already has been so much heated debate over continued funding for aquifer protection, if this occurs, I can’t help wonder what happens to the greenway trails. A big chunk of the tax has made them possible. Have they been forgotten?

Well, there’s good news here. Swann told me the trails project, including maintenance of the existing greenway, is already fully funded through the end of 2022. There are also several available sources of money for the trails from the city and county if the tax goes elsewhere. (That’s not the case for the aquifer protection program – currently, the San Antonio Water System would have to take over support, unless the Legislature expands the city’s bonding authority.)

From now until November, a lot of folks will vigorously exercise their right to debate what to do with the one-eighth-cent sales tax. A lot more folks will exercise their bodies and clear their minds walking, biking or just enjoying nature on the trails. I plan to do both, and I know I’ll enjoy the trails more.

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