San Antono's River Walk Expansion Leads Nation in Urban Ecosystem Restoraton

Eva Aivaliotis |
San Antonio’s River Walk Expansion Leads Nation in Urban Ecosystem Restoration.

Breathing life back into the river that inspired one of America’s most culturally rich destinations.

Famed for iconic history and a bold and beautiful culture, San Antonio is gaining recognition as home of the nation’s largest urban ecosystem restoration project with the expansion of the River Walk. With its grand opening set for Oct. 5, the completed Mission Reach will bring to life a revived, eight-mile stretch of the San Antonio River.

Bringing back lost riparian and aquatic habitat, inspiring the return of numerous animal species and encouraging the interest of numerous cities from nations all around the world who are looking to replicate similar projects are just the beginning of how this restoration will impact San Antonio and the global community.

The picturesque River Walk and the Alamo are what many call to mind when thinking of San Antonio. Built in the 1930s, the original River Walk winds through historic downtown connecting restaurants, shops, theaters and historic sites. It is one of the most-visited sites in Texas and one of the most-recognized attractions in the United States.

The Mission Reach, a southern section of the San Antonio River is of particular historical significance as it links four 18th century missions, the largest collection of Spanish colonial architecture in North America. In years since the establishment of these missions almost 300 years ago, this stretch of the river’s original route, beauty and life had been lost. In the 1950s, after years of devastating floods, the Mission Reach was engineered into a trapezoidal storm water channel by the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers. Though it worked well for flood control, the change left this area devoid of native plant life and with a diminished aquatic habitat.

The current restoration will bring back the river’s natural environments and aquatic habitat as well as the addition of over 23,000 new trees (over 40 native species) and hundreds of acres of native grasses and wildflowers (over 60 species). Features will also include hiking, biking and paddling (e.g., canoeing or kayaking) opportunities to reconnect people with the river.

By cultivating this drainage channel back into a functioning part of the San Antonio River, San Antonio is becoming a world leader in urban ecosystem restoration.

Representatives of cities from countries such as China, India, Japan, South Korea, Israel, Malaysia, Germany, Canada, Mexico and Taiwan  have visited the Mission Reach in the spirit of recapturing aspects of this project for their own communities.

With a total investment of $358.3 million, the San Antonio River Improvements Project provides immense potential for further economic development. Improving the function and landscape of this traditionally economically challenged section of San Antonio will hopefully inspire further development and improve the quality of life for surrounding residents. It also provides another offering for San Antonio’s highly successful tourism industry which employs one out of eight residents and contributes some $12 billion into the economy annually.

The Restoration at a At a Glance:
  • Cultivating an eight-mile drainage channel back into a functioning part of the San Antonio River
  • Returning aquatic life and diversity by incorporating riffles, pools and runs
  • Restoring over 300 acres of riparian habitat by planting over 10,000 pounds of native wildflower and grass seeds (over 60 different native species) and planting over 23,000 trees and shrubs (over 40 different native species)
  • A total investment of $ 358.3 million of which over $245 million is for the Mission Reach Ecosystem Restoration and Recreation Project
Full completion October  2013
  • The restored Mission Reach habitat supports a wide variety of flora and fauna.  A small sampling of the species that reside here includes: great egret; red-shouldered hawk; little blue heron; red wing black bird; bluegill; green sunfish; largemouth bass; red-eared slider turtle; monarch butterfly; pipevine swallow tail butterfly; roseate skimmer dragonfly; nine-banded armadillo; and diamondback watersnake.
  • Countries that have visited the Mission Reach to replicate aspects of this project: China, India, Japan, South Korea, Israel, Malaysia, Germany, Canada, Mexico and Taiwan