Thanks to the foresight of the voters of San Antonio back in the year 2000, we all have a new nature park as of this past weekendCrownridge Canyon Natural Area, 207 acres of Hill Country on the far northwest side, amidst an enveloping sea of fast-growing subdivisions. The grand opening was Saturday morning at 9. Not being much of a morning person, I didn't make that, but we did drop by for a brief visit late that afternoon. As you can see, I got a few pictures.
Compared to the 8,000-plus acres of Government Canyon State Natural Area, the 207 acres of Crownridge may seem like small potatoes. But, like the similarly-sized, twenty-year-old Friedrich Wilderness Park just a couple miles away, Crownridge Canyon will inevitably become a special place in the minds of many San Antonians. As the Friends of Friedrich Wilderness Park website says, these modest-sized parks provide "an opportunity for visitors to experience the sights, sounds, and scents of nature in a landscape of creeks, springs, hilltops, and wooded canyons."
Nearly a year ago, the San Antonio Express-News wrote about a sneak-preview tour of the park given by the city:
The Crownridge Canyon Natural Area is the first preserve resulting from about 6,500 acres funded by a sales tax increase that voters approved in 2000. The tax was meant to protect natural land near the aquifer, San Antonio's primary source of water, from the booming residential development in Northern Bexar County.
Staff provided short tours through the natural area, which is home to the endangered golden-cheeked warbler, white-tailed deer, wild turkeys, butterflies and feral hogs.
The area will provide nature-based recreation including hiking, day camping and wildlife watching.
When completed, there will be about two miles of trails, nearly half paved with pervious material for wheelchairs and strollers and the other half natural.
"It's for people who want to get away from it all. Listen to the birds, hear the wind blow through the trees," said Janis Merritt, a park native plant specialist.
"It's a different experience from our city parks with soccer fields and picnic areas."
Visitors to Crownridge Canyon said they were impressed by the effort to keep the area natural and apart from the high-priced neighborhoods around it.
"You can see what this area was like before the development. We're surrounded by houses, but some places in here you wouldn't know because it's so quiet," said Francine Romero, a supporter of Proposition 1. "San Antonio has so many beautiful areas, and we're losing them so fast. I don't want people to forget."
During our visit, we perused natural history exhibits housed in a large open-air shelter. On the walls and floor of the shelter is a mural with a very watery themedesigned, undoubtedly, to remind visitors of the reasons why this land was spared from development.
News of the park's opening must not have spread very far yet, for, despite the perfect weather, we were one of only a handful of groups at the park. So it was quiet and peaceful. We proceeded up the wide, paved trail, catching glimpses of mansions dotting the hill tops surrounding the park and pausing to snap pictures and enjoy the late afternoon sun shining through the red oak leaves just budding out after a short, dry winter.
We admired the solid trail engineeringfar more substantial than anything done by the volunteer trail building crew at Government Canyon State Natural Area of which we had been a part. The city clearly put a premium on accessibility.
As we reached the far point of the loop, a narrower, unpaved trailmore typical of those at Government Canyonset off into the woods. Leaving that short adventure for another day, we continued following the paved path back towards the park entrance. Along the way, we watched a juvenile Red-shouldered Hawk circle above us before landing in a red oak a couple hundred feet across a meadow.
As we exited the park, we were reminded that what is left of the peace and quiet in this part of the Hill Country is not going to last much longer, apart from a few oases such as Crownridge Canyon. A sign in front of a large, undeveloped grassland advertised the opening of a private high schoolcoming in summer 2006.
Fortunately, the voters of San Antonio showed further foresight a year ago in extending the aquifer-protection sales tax for another four years. So, while subdivisions and car dealerships eat up our natural landscape more and more every year, more new city nature parks are in the works.