The San Antonio River has been important to the city around it for hundreds of years, but in recent decades visitors and locals have only been able to access a small segment of the river.
Now work that started decades ago to change that is coming to a close, and as a result the river is playing an important role in downtown San Antonio’s revival.
In the late 1990’s, a group of government entities including the city of San Antonio, Bexar County, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the San Antonio River Authority joined with the San Antonio River Foundation to begin the San Antonio River Improvements Project (SARIP).
The $384.1 million investment includes a massive ecosystem restoration, flood control, amenities, and recreational improvements to the San Antonio River in four sections: Museum Reach, Downtown Reach, Eagleland Project, and Mission Reach.
An oversight committee made up of 22 civic and neighborhood leaders oversaw the planning, design, citizen input, funding and project management, starting in 1998.
While the process is ongoing, particularly the restoration of plant life, many of the improvements are open to the public. Phase I of the Museum Reach, all phases of the Mission Reach, the Eagleland segment and Downtown Reach are complete.
In addition to providing recreational opportunities, the improvements include art installations that illustrate the river’s role in San Antonio’s history.
Human first lived near the river thousands of years ago. When the first Spanish settlers arrived, they built missions near the river and engineered it to meet their needs. A series of dams and canals called acequias brought river water to the missions, and are among the earliest recorded water systems in the country.
In the early 1900’s efforts to enhance the river and the downtown area around it began. Although one proposal suggested converting the river into a covered drainage culvert, citizens opposed the idea and the modern walkways and bridges instead took shape over the river.
Today SARIP’s improvements have enhanced the early flood controls, while restoring some of the river’s natural habitats and adding opportunities for people to interact with and enjoy the river.