May 29, 2024 - News

River restoration sparks concerns in Brackenridge Park

A concrete low water crossing is seen above a portion of the river that forms a pool with vegetation

This low water crossing in Brackenridge Park near the River Road area is slated for removal. Photo: Megan Stringer/Axios

As a hidden stretch of the San Antonio River in Brackenridge Park is set to undergo restoration to improve a deteriorating ecosystem, some neighbors are worried about the loss of a nostalgic crossing and changes to the existing environment.

Why it matters: The area is one of the last undeveloped banks of the San Antonio River remaining in the city — something neighbors say contributes to a natural atmosphere in the park and separates it from the more developed River Walk to the south.

The big picture: The project, which has been in the works since at least 2015, is set to finally begin against the backdrop of ongoing concerns over tree removal around Lambert Beach in Brackenridge Park, part of 2017 bond work.

How it works: The river restoration project is separate from that bond project. It will take place south of the main park area, abutting the River Road neighborhood and the Brackenridge Park Golf Course. (The work does not involve the well-known low water crossing near the zoo.)

  • The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) is leading the $13 million project, which is 100% federally funded through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.
  • The San Antonio River Authority initiated the project and is assisting with community engagement and some work.
Map showing the river restoration project at Brackenridge Park with the locations of three planned low water crossings, the golf course and the site of a new trail along Avenue A.
Data: USACE; Map: Axios Visuals

Zoom in: To address erosion, poor water quality and invasive species and shore up a natural habitat for wildlife, the plan is to:

  • Remove three low water crossings and replace them with bridges;
  • Remove Avenue A next to the river and replace it with a trail;
  • Remove all invasive, non-native plant species and replace them with native species.

State of play: Sandwiched between the St. Mary's Strip and Broadway, the lush, overgrown area offers a respite from the city's urban landscape.

A San Antonio River bank is muddy and eroded with trees hanging over it.
Environmental officials say this part of the San Antonio River faces erosion and an unnatural habitat overrun with invasive species. Photo: Megan Stringer/Axios

What they're saying: River Road resident Ben Hernandez tells Axios he doesn't want the crossing removed. He has childhood memories of swimming in the river there and swinging in on a rope.

  • Neighbor Larry Clark tells Axios he's in favor of restoring the river but wants to see alternatives to removing the low water crossing.

The other side: "It needs to come out," Derek Boese, general manager of the San Antonio River Authority (SARA), tells Axios. He says it exacerbates erosion and prevents fish from passing.

  • Bill Aylor, who sits on the board of the River Road Neighborhood Association and chairs its river committee, tells Axios he supports removing the low water crossing.
  • "It's historic and sentimental and emotional," Aylor says. "In my view, environmental reasons and the health of the river are more important. We need to acknowledge that history, but I think the future of the river is brighter if we take out the low water crossing."

Plus: Residents also worry about the plan to remove all invasive species from the crossing area at once, rather than in stages — concerned they could be looking at an empty river bank devoid of the lush greenery it now holds, with a view straight from the park to Broadway.

  • But if officials removed invasive species in stages, the non-native vegetation would grow right back, Brian Mast, deputy director of government affairs for SARA, tells Axios.
  • "It's just going to continue to contaminate the area," Mast says.

What's next: Design work for the project is just beginning.

  • Construction is slated to begin in 2026 and wrap up by 2028.
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