How a Beacon Hill storm drain is reborn as a park
The trail that connects the linear park to the Beacon Hill neighborhood may be the shortest trail I’ve ever written about for this series, but it still left a big impression on me.
Last week, I met Jerry Lockey, a longtime member of the Beacon Hill Neighborhood Association, at the community garden at Gramercy Place and Capitol Avenue. The garden, one of the first community gardens of the Green Spaces Alliance of South Texas launched in the early 2000s, is also the southernmost point of the trail.
Beacon Hill Linear Park
Offers: Walking path, playgrounds, basketball court
Location: Beacon Hill Community Garden (1144 W Gramercy Pl.) at Hildebrand Ave. (922 W. Hildebrand Ave.)
Route miles: Approximately 0.6 miles of mixed surface trails, streets and sidewalks
Bathroom: Water fountains at Gramercy Place and Capitol Avenue.
For the association, assembling the path over the years is a bit like gardening, the inhabitants negotiating with the city for slow funding over many years, said Lockey, a retired medical technology professional who has lived in the neighborhood since 1996. Gradually, they added length and functionality to the trail, which stretches diagonally across the neighborhood to Hildebrand Avenue.
In my opinion this trail is unique in the San Antonio area. No other neighborhood park has been padded for so many years, through streets and vacant lots, crossing behind backyard fences, built right into the neighborhood it serves.
The idea arose because of the underground stormwater tunnel under the neighborhood, Lockey explained. Under the linear park runs a gigantic rainwater conveyance structure. On the surface, the only signs are the concrete inlets sticking out of the grass, giving flash floods a place to drain underground.
Neighbors originally considered clearing these unused lands and turning them into parks, Lockey said. They had also gotten a bunch of free trees from the city, he said, and planted them in what would become the community garden.
“We carried water bins there,” he said. “We’ve been using the bucket brigade to water them all this summer.”
When they checked them later that fall, “the city had mowed them all down,” he said.
The park has come a long way since then. In 2013 the city opened the first four or five lots, and the trail has grown to just over half a mile. I first got curious about the park while visiting the Evergreen Garden Center, which basically shares a parking lot with the north trailhead on Hildebrand. Between there and the community garden, the trail passes through seven mini-parks on its diagonal course through the neighborhood.
Due to its slow and iterative construction over the years, the surfaces of the trail are constantly changing. At times, the Beacon Hill Linear Neighborhood Park Trail is a paved road. Sometimes it’s a street. Sometimes it’s a path of decomposed granite. Other times it’s a well-trodden patch of grass.
Lockey and I walked the path together on Wednesday night. People used almost every park along the way – young men playing basketball, older men sitting on benches under a tree, an old woman and a toddler playing in a playground and a group of kids having an epic war with Nerf guns.
“Ten blocks is all it is,” Lockey said as we walked. “But it’s right across the neighborhood.”
The association still plans to continue expanding the park. Lockey pointed to a recent addition to the park, a former vacant lot near the community garden. Residents filled the grounds with native plants and built a small pétanque court (I had never heard of it, but apparently it’s like a French version of pétanque).
With Hildebrand as the northern edge of the Beacon Hill neighborhood, Lockey said the trail is unlikely to push any farther north. The only way to extend it would be to connect it to the Martinez Creek trail to the south.
For now, it is planned to continue improving the existing park. Another batch of trees is also being directed to the park, funded by the 2017-2022 bond, Lockey said. He wanted me to pass on his gratitude to the members of city council and the staff of the parks and recreation department who have worked with them over the years.
“It’s good to let people know that the government is doing good things,” he said.