Have Path, Will Travel

Cities considering the institution of a similar program will find that land acquisition along creekways presents its own set of interesting challenges, according to Ross.

“It’s very different than buying land for other capital projects because the land is usually vacant floodplain that can’t be developed. This makes the land much less expensive in most cases,” he explains. “However, this cost savings is offset somewhat by the cost of designing and installing trails and bridges that will withstand severe flood events and properly handle the associated drainage.”

Trail design can also be a challenge because it’s important to minimize the impact the trails have on the surrounding environment.

“The land surrounding the creekways is often home to the largest, healthiest trees in an urban area,” Ross says. “It’s a good idea to weave the trail within existing clearings and then require contractors to keep their equipment and vehicles within a narrow (14- to 16-foot) corridor.”

Incorporating natural-looking, native materials–such as using boulders in place of rip-rap–also contributes to the quality of the end-user’s experience. If done properly, the completed trail blends in with the natural surroundings.

Public Approval

In San Antonio’s program, signage located at the trailheads and along trails provides directional maps and information about each greenway and its unique natural and historical features.

In a city with a historically high incidence of hypertension and diabetes, the trails are an important component in the parks and recreation department’s fitness marketing campaign, Get Active. Get. Fit. Step Up to Recreation!

“We’re offering citizens a new, unique and beautiful place to ride their bikes or hike as families.” Ross explains. “Some of these trails have spectacular scenery, which encourages citizens to spend time getting in touch with nature in their city parks while getting fit.”

The parks and recreation department provides regular maintenance along the trails, including removal of trash and other obstructions, such as low-hanging branches. Park police provide security by using ATVs and mountain bikes.

Approval of the sales tax allows the department to pursue phases that were previously unfunded, including additional tributaries. With the continued implementation of this innovative creekway program, citizens can look forward to a future in which a system of trails along waterways serves as pathways that connect them to healthy living.

Kelly Irvin is the public relations manager for the San Antonio Parks and Recreation Department in Texas. She can be reached via e-mail at Kelly.Irvin@sanantonio.gov.

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