San Antonio’s Brackenridge Historic Park struggling with “decline”: pedal boats, kayaking possible

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Long before the pandemic, San Antonio’s Brackenridge Park, a recreational gem with a history of human contact dating back thousands of years, suffered ecologically.

In the 1990s, the park had a carousel, pedal boats, horse trails, an approximately 100-foot-high gondola, and rock concerts in an open-air theater. Those attractions are gone, though the Brackenridge Park Conservancy is working to rebuild and expand the 91-year-old Sunken Garden Theater for concerts.

The city has tried to attract pedestrians and cyclists to the parking paths, protect trees and river banks, and provide new amenities in recent years. But the rains have eroded the soil, damaged riverbanks, exposed tree roots and thrown silt into the water at a rate faster than crews can keep up with the maintenance and cleanup.

It came as a shock to longtime San Antonians with warm memories of picnics, softball games and trips to the zoo to learn that the 122-year-old park is in decline, according to a report on the Cultural Landscape of the conversation. The conservation group is asking the public to help them balance human uses with the environmental degradation that has occurred just downstream from the sources of the San Antonio River.

“What we’ve learned is that the river and riparian area and natural areas are in more distress than we thought. This is one of the areas we need to work on, ”said Lynn Bobbitt, executive director of conservation, created in 2008 to protect and preserve the park.

The “historic and public value of the park has become less and less understandable. And a piecemeal approach to improving its current conditions will not serve its long-term viability, ”says a report by Reed Hilderbrand, landscape architects, for conservation and the San Antonio River Authority,

A tree in the foreground leans Wednesday, November 3, 2021 over the San Antonio River in Brackenridge Park as a deteriorating wall is visible in the background. A cultural landscape report released this summer by the Brackenridge Park Conservancy shows the park is in decline and the conservatory is seeking public input to set priorities for the park that balance human uses and environmental degradation .

William Luther, Staff / Staff

On Saturday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., conservation officials will host an open-air open house to gather ideas, comments and priorities from park users. They will show artifacts and tell stories about the park’s evolution from a prehistoric refuge and hunting ground to a focal point for social and family gatherings. Most activities will be centered along St. Mary’s Street, near the entrance to the San Antonio Zoo, and at the Conservation Headquarters at 531 Brackenridge Way near the Joske Lodge.

The conservatory asks visitors how often they use the park and for what – to hike, have a picnic, or visit the Witte Museum or the Japanese Tea Garden. The organization also wants to know if the public is interested in a return of the rented pedal boats that were once a draw at Brackenridge, as well as kayaking – a new activity.

“We conservation would love to bring back the paddle boats,” said Bobbit.

But first, the water quality of the river and about 100 acres of natural open space in Brackenridge need improvement, she said.

“The aim is to increase that and improve the vegetation, the plantations, to eliminate the invasive species and to make it a more attractive natural space for people to go to the zoo, to go to La Witte, in addition to other park activities. town, to have a picnic – but also to have this healthy ecosystem here that would include an animal and bird assessment, ”she said.

Human artifacts dating back more than 10,000 years have been found at Brackenridge, and an acequia was built there in the 1720s to irrigate the crops of the San Antonio de Valero Mission. Pumping Station No.1 dating from around 1877 still stands at the north end of the park, reminiscent of the water system owned by banker George Brackenridge, the park’s namesake. He pushed the water to a reservoir in the area of ​​the present-day San Antonio Botanical Garden, where it flowed by gravity through pipes to local homes.

“The story of water is what binds us all throughout the park,” Bobbitt said.

A black vulture, often mistakenly referred to as a buzzard, stands on Wednesday, November 3, 2021 on a fence surrounding a playground in Brackenridge Park.  A cultural landscape report released this summer by the Brackenridge Park Conservancy shows the park is in decline and the conservatory is seeking public input to set priorities for the park that balance human uses and environmental degradation .

A black vulture, often mistakenly referred to as a buzzard, stands on Wednesday, November 3, 2021 on a fence surrounding a playground in Brackenridge Park. A cultural landscape report released this summer by the Brackenridge Park Conservancy shows the park is in decline and the conservatory is seeking public input to set priorities for the park that balance human uses and environmental degradation .

William Luther, Staff / Staff

Brackenridge donated 199 acres to the city for a park in 1899. Buffaloes, elk and deer roamed it before a city zoo, now the San Antonio Zoo, did opened in 1914. The park had a horse racing track and golf course, a gravel-bottomed “swimming beach” and a Japanese tea garden were added in the mid-1920s.

Those unable to attend the Saturday event can provide suggestions and comments in a brief survey in Spanish or English on the conservation website brackenridgepark.org. Conservation plans to report back to the community on the priorities, based on local feedback, and start working on a plan of action, possibly through a future bond issue, fundraiser. fund or partnership with SARA.

“It’s not a quick fix, but it has to be a 20-year-old solution,” Bobbitt said.

When: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday

What: Food Trucks, live music, information and feedback on the historic park near downtown San Antonio.

Or: Martinez Softball Field, 3610 N. St. Mary’s St .; Starbucks, 3910 N. St. Mary’s St .; Conservation Offices, 531 Brackenridge Way, near Joske Pavilion



shuddleston@express-news.net


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