Brackenridge Park is a municipal park of national significance and one of San Antonio’s greatest cultural resources.
Brackenridge Park, created in 1899 with the bequest of philanthropist George W. Brackenridge, is unlike many public parks in the country. Brackenridge was not designed by a famous landscape architect, but rather the land has been shaped by city leaders, parks commissioners and, very importantly, by the people who have used it.
For this reason, “Brack” holds magical memories for residents from throughout the city and county whose families have enjoyed visits for generations. The heritage of the site spans more than 11,000 years, telling the story of the city’s development, connected by the San Antonio River to the Alamo and the missions.
On Friday, the Brackenridge Park Conservancy and The Cultural Landscape Foundation, or TCLF, are presenting a summit — “Leading with Landscape III: Renewing San Antonio’s Brackenridge Park,” an important next step in the community process.
According to Charles Birnbaum, TCLF’s president and CEO who is organizing the event, “the objective is to create a forum for discussion between public users, stakeholders, stewards and experts, from both inside and outside of San Antonio, which will place an emphasis on strong research and planning foundation to help inform and guide future design and decision-making.”
How do we look at the park holistically and not simply as a collection of component parts? How do we find a balance among the natural, historic, cultural and ecological systems, and manage change while protecting the traditions cherished by the community?
These questions and others will be explored. The park institutions and attractions are experiencing exciting growth, and now, we, as park users, must address the park proper.
The summit schedule includes a morning panel featuring local speakers who will explore what we can learn from local success stories such as the San Antonio River’s Mission Reach and Museum Reach. An afternoon panel will include four speakers from around the U.S. who are charged with addressing Brackenridge Park’s planning and design challenges, and will draw on each speaker’s experience, applying lessons learned to the park.
Participants include Mayor Ivy Taylor; Councilmen Roberto Treviño and Alan Warrick; Robert Hammond, a native of San Antonio and co-founder of Friends of the High Line, a linear park in Manhattan; Everett Fly, San Antonio landscape architect and 2014 recipient of the National Humanities Medal; Rick Casey, host of KLRN’s “Texas Week”; and Vincent Michael, executive director of the San Antonio Conservation Society.
Two positive upcoming items will affect the park’s future.
The Brackenridge Park Conservancy, in partnership with the Cultural Landscape Foundation, based in Washington, D.C., will present “Leading with Landscape III: Renewing San Antonio’s Brackenridge Park” onFriday at Pearl Stable from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. A designated number of tickets are available at no charge to community stakeholders from the general public who reside in San Antonio. There is a registration fee for professionals, and professional development hours will be available.
In March, a revised Brackenridge Park Master Plan, which the conservancy supports, will be presented to City Council. City leaders responded to park users’ strong statements that they were left out of the process, and directed the Parks and Recreation Department to expand opportunities for comment, which the conservancy endorsed. Six additional public meetings during the summer and five activity-based events in the park in the fall allowed for more public input, resulting in a revised plan.
The three strategies that garnered community support will go forward: Restore natural features and improve water quality; preserve and restore cultural and historic features; and increase pedestrian access and connection to neighborhoods.
The 2017 bond election is May 6, and $21.5 million is designated for Brackenridge Park. Projects include $7.5 million for critical infrastructure, restoration of the Depression-era river channel walls, stabilization of the 1877 Water Works Pump House the restoration of the 1776 Spanish colonial Upper Labor dam and acequia. The remainder is for construction of a parking garage and expansion of an existing garage that will be shared by visitors to the zoo, the Witte Museum and the park. The recommended funding is consistent with the strategies that residents endorsed in the public master plan meetings.
We all have memories of the park. They are part of the park’s story — birthdays with piñatas, train rides, drives across the low-water crossing, squeals of delight as water splashed, lost shoes in the river while paddling boats, and owning an alligator from the Alligator Garden (as I did).
Joe Calvert, president of the BPC board, remembers outings with his grandmother — granddaughter of Ludwig Mahncke, influential parks commissioner and a friend of George Brackenridge. These outings ended with Frontier Burgers at the first Jim’s Restaurant, horseback riding, golf and the Texas Open. There has been family camping at Easter for more than 60 years. All were respites from the hustle and bustle of daily life.
What new memories will we build together?
The Brackenridge Park Conservancy is a nonprofit formed in 2009 with the leadership of and funding from the San Antonio Conservation Society. The only organization solely dedicated to the protection of the park, the conservancy is a conduit for public discourse. The city owns and manages the park, and the BPC operates as an adviser to the city.
The Pearl, the John and Florence Newman Foundation, the city Parks and Recreation Department, and a consortium of sponsors make the summit possible.
Lynn Osborne Bobbitt is executive director of the Brackenridge Park Conservancy and lifelong San Antonio resident. For more information, go to firstname.lastname@example.org.
To register and see the full list of presenters, visit //tclf.org/event/san-antonio-leading-with-landscape-conference.
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