Texas Rising March/April 2010

Making a Good River Better

San Antonio River access will stretch from museums to historic missions

Funding the Project

Partners and their Contributions

The San Antonio River Improvements Project drew support and, importantly, funding from a broad range of partners:

  • Bexar County flood tax: $75.6 million
  • Bexar County venue tax: $125 million*
  • City of San Antonio: $76.7 million
  • U.S. Army Corps of Engineers: $141.3 million
  • Other federal Eagleland Project funding: $2.6 million
  • S.A. River Foundation private donations: $17 million
  • San Antonio Water System: $6.2 million (utility relocations)
  • San Antonio River Authority: est. $5-6 million annual maintenance and operations

* Voters approved this expenditure to fund any shortfall in U.S. Army Corps of Engineers funding for the Mission Reach improvements.

By Gerard MacCrossan

Most visitors and even Alamo City residents picture the River Walk when they think of the San Antonio River. But that 1.3-mile stretch through downtown with its sightseeing barges, restaurants and bars is only one-tenth of the 13 miles of publicly accessible riverside trails that will connect the city’s museum district with the historic colonial missions by 2013.

The existing River Walk is Texas’ top tourist destination and is beloved by convention planners. The river revitalization effort is the largest urban ecosystem restoration project ever undertaken in the U.S.

The concrete bottoms installed in sections of the River Walk channel in the 1970s and 1980s have been replaced with natural sediment bottoms and places added where fish can shelter when the river is drained for cleaning.

The four sections have taken years to plan and required a meeting of the minds by local, state and federal organizations to settle on the four-phased route and obtain funding to make the $384.5 million plan a reality.

“When the vision was put together collectively in the late 1990s, it was to use the river as a connection, our own Central Park that can connect both north and south,” says Suzanne Scott, general manager of the San Antonio River Authority, which is project manager for the river improvements project. “The vision is for a continuous hike and bike connection from Brackenridge Park to Mission Espada.”

When fully complete in 2013, the new “Mission Reach” section will offer locals and visitors an eight-mile riverside trail. The improvements are designed to rehabilitate the river’s ecosystem, which was heavily altered when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers installed vital flood protection measures in the 1960s.

It reflects the federal agency’s changed approach to flood protection.

Modern engineering techniques allow floodwaters in the river to be managed in a more naturalized environment, Scott says.

Water levels permitting, the river will be navigable for canoes and kayaks.

“We’re seeing an increased interest in ecotourism,” Scott says. “When people come to town, some want to ride bikes or go to picnic. Among the attractions in the Mission Reach are the historic missions, part of the national parks system. It will be even more of an attraction when people will be able to get there along the river.” TR

San Antonio River Improvements Project

Museum Reach

The 1.3-mile Urban Segment (opened May 2009) connects downtown with the San Antonio Museum of Art and the Pearl complex. The 2-mile Park Segment (scheduled to open in 2011) will extend north to the San Antonio Zoo and Witte Museum.

Downtown Reach

The 1-mile restoration of the original River Walk (completed in 2002) improved flood protection and accessibility in Texas’ top tourist destination.

Eagleland Project

The 1-mile ecosystem restoration project is the transitional segment between the downtown River Walk and the Mission Reach.

Mission Reach

Due for completion in 2013, the last 8-mile section is creating a riparian woodland ecosystem that opens public access from South Alamo Street to Mission Espada outside Loop 410.