Apr 12, 2023 - News

Brackenridge Park trees may be cut down after state approves permits

Trees surround the San Antonio River stone retaining walls in Brackenridge Park. Photo: Megan Stringer/Axios

San Antonio is one step closer to cutting down 48 trees in Brackenridge Park, despite calls from residents to "stop the chop."

Driving the news: Members of the Texas Historical Commission's executive committee voted unanimously Tuesday to approve two permits for phase one of a city project at the park, which involves restoring historic structures near Lambert Beach.

Why it matters: Community members worry the loss of trees will alter the character of the historic park and negatively impact wildlife. As officials have moved to revitalize the park, deemed to be in decline, more residents are stepping up to have a say in its future.

Catch up fast: The long-awaited vote is a loss for residents who have spent more than a year protesting, combing city agenda documents and showing up to meetings.

  • The city's initial plans included the removal of more than 100 trees, some considered rare and irreplaceable. After public outcry, officials scaled back the number of trees slated for removal and held a series of public input meetings.

What's happening: Many trees have grown close to the river retaining walls, with root systems threatening the stone in some places. City officials have said they cannot avoid removing all the trees because of their position.

  • The state historical commission had to give the green light to the plan because Brackenridge Park is a Texas State Antiquities Landmark, among other historic designations.

The big picture: The battle over Brackenridge Park emphasizes the community's passion for a site that holds a special place in their memories. People recall childhood field trips and family camping excursions over Easter.

Context: The historical commission heard testimony about the project last month, but delayed a decision after hearing from passionate San Antonians who traveled to Austin to be heard.

  • The commission did not take further public comment at Tuesday's meeting, held in San Antonio.

What they're saying: Tiffany Pippin, a resident who has long voiced concerns over the city's project, said she was devastated by Tuesday's vote.

  • "Understandably, the walls and buildings need improving," Pippin tells Axios. "But 48 trees is a lot."
  • "Whatever happens, I think we shouldn't just step aside," Pippin says. "We should continue to show up."

The other side: The Texas Historical Commission is obligated to focus on archaeology and historic preservation, and doesn't have botanists or arborists among its ranks, Mark Wolfe, executive director of the commission, said Tuesday.

  • "To those that advocated for zero impact on the trees — personally, I don't think that's reality, " commission chair John Nau said.

What's next: San Antonio won't immediately cut down the trees. Officials must still get members of the city's Historic and Design Review Commission to sign off on the project, Homer Garcia III, director of the city's parks department, tells Axios.

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