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Hardberger Park land bridge unveiled

Project ‘joins two halves of San Antonio,’ former mayor says

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The newly opened earthen-covered bridge above Wurzbach Parkway connecting 8 miles of trails at Hardberger Park has also joined two halves of San Antonio, a former mayor says.

Work to erect a wildlife- and pedestrian-friendly land bridge linking both sections of the sprawling North Side park took two years to build but a decade of planning, fundraising and politicking.

“This bridge is also symbolic. It not only joins two halves of the park, it joins two halves of San Antonio,” said ex-Mayor Phil Hardberger, the park’s namesake. “This is the center of San Antonio in terms of population. It’s a good melting pot here. People come here from all 10 City Council districts. It’s free and everybody’s welcome. We see it uniting the city.”

The Robert L.B. Tobin Land Bridge, sitting between Blanco Road and Northwest Military Highway, opened Dec. 11. The former mayor said he couldn’t have been happier.

“It’s satisfying and everything I wanted it to be,” Hardberger said.

An aerial view of the Hardberger Park land bridge, which debuted Dec. 11. Workers spent the holidays planting native vegetation across the span. Courtesy photo/San Antonio

He regularly toured the worksite over the years, personally observing a major project he long touted as a capstone for the 330-acre park’s master plan.

Once part of a dairy farm owned by Max and Minnie Voelcker, the park encompasses council districts 8 and 9.

The bridge was supported with $13 million from the city’s 2017 bond, and $10 million in grants and private funds raised by the Phil Hardberger Park Conservancy and others.

“The voter-approved Robert L. B. Tobin Land Bridge is an incredible addition to our community parks that can be enjoyed by all,” District 8 Councilman Manny Peláez said.

It has two primary purposes. One is to encourage wildlife to safely reach the east and west sides of the park without crossing a busy Wurzbach Parkway.

“Now (animals will) be able to meet,” Hardberger said.

Visitors head west on the recently opened Hardberger Park land bridge Dec. 11. Photo by Edmond Ortiz

Observers recently spotted a large deer and coyote navigating the bridge.

The second purpose is to entice more people to explore the park on foot or bicycles, officials said.

“The connection of both sides of Phil Hardberger Park provides for a one-of-a-kind nature experience in our community, while increasing accessibility within one of San Antonio’s premier parks,” Peláez said.

City employees and community volunteers served as guides on the first weekend, leading guests to and from the overpass.

Two decorative steel wildlife observation posts designed by Stephen Stimson Associates Landscape Architects are at each end of the land bridge.

They offer opportunities for public art, wilderness appreciation and education.

“As an avid bird-watcher, I’m excited to see neighbors and visitors alike take advantage of the wildlife-viewing blinds, which blend local art and functionality to create a novel opportunity to marvel at our local wildlife,” said Peláez.

District 9 Councilman John Courage is also elated.

“We’ve heard from many people about their excitement for this wonderful addition to our Hardberger Park,” Courage said. “It’s going to be an asset to the neighbors that use the park, as well as the wildlife. We are very happy with the success of building this bridge and what it means to our community.”

SpawGlass’ workers, who have handled the entire construction endeavor, plan to finish building skywalks leading to each bridge entry in January.

Other project features slated for completion in early 2021 include the span’s  irrigation system, native landscaping and lighting fixtures.

Some residents who walked across the land bridge shared their thoughts on the Phil Hardberger Park Conservancy’s Facebook page.

“It’s been fun watching this being built,” Melissa Birkhead Welch said.

Hardberger said while San Antonio’s historical “center” has long been Main Plaza and downtown, the North Side’s population is increasing and Hardberger Park has become a new central destination.

Before voters passed the 2017 bond, some San Antonio residents, especially from other parts of the city, disliked reserving a significant amount of public funds for a land bridge in a North Side park.

Hardberger, who suffered a mild heart attack only days after the opening, hopes the span inspires more park-system expansion.

“When you build something like this, that gets the attention of everybody, it becomes a good leader for what follows,” he said.

“Those who say they want a big park in their district, my answer is: ‘I sure hope you get it. You deserve it.’ Every part of San Antonio deserves a great park.”

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