Mission Reach Ecosystem Restoration and Recreation Project Phase 1 and Phase 2 Grand Opening Ceremony held June 25 on the San Antonio River was highlighted by the surprise event participation and endorsement of support from Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar. The Secretary announced his support for the nomination of the four historic missions within the project, the Alamo, and the river as a World Heritage site.
Celebrating unity with a "ribbon joining" ceremony communities in San Antonio's south side will not only be reconnected to their four historic missions but will be an added attraction within reach of San Antonio's famed Riverwalk to the north.
The grand opening held June 25, showcased the first two miles of the Mission Reach Ecosystem Restoration and Recreation Project Phase 1 and 2 on the San Antonio River.
When completed the project will be eight-miles in length, restoring the previously channelized San Antonio River closer to its original state, while maintaining its role as a flood risk management area.
The event was highlighted by the surprise event participation and endorsement of support from Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar. The Secretary announced his support for the nomination of the four historic missions within the project, the Alamo, and the river as a World Heritage site.
"I'm ready to sign off today," said Salazar. "San Antonio deserves this recognition… you have set an example for the nation and the world."
A nomination in itself is a great accomplishment since the United States is only allowed two submissions annually. The site must then compete with entrants from around the world. If chosen by the United Nations' education, scientific and cultural organization which designates World Heritage sites, it would be the first U.S. World Heritage site in Texas, joining sites that include Yellowstone National Park, the Statue of Liberty and Independence Hall in Philadelphia.
Although years in planning in 2006 it was up to a team comprised of the Corps, San Antonio River Authority, Bexar County, the city of San Antonio and several other entities to transform the southern portion of the river closer to its natural state without losing the flood risk management benefits.
"The channelization of the river straightened it and made it steep in order to get the water out of the city quickly," said Charissa Kelly, project manager at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Fort Worth District. "It worked great for flood management but degraded the riverine habitat and disconnected the missions from the river."
The steep angle of the river increased the water velocities which cause erosion, sediment imbalance and the loss of native fish. The use of fluvial geomorphology principles, based on the natural river forming processes, will allow for improved sustainability and a more natural replication of the original river function.
"Within Phase 1 we placed eight structures to balance the slope of the river and river's sediment transport capabilities," said Kelly. "In addition in Phase 2 we created 23 riffles to create pool habitat which is of great importance to the survivability of native fish."
To further support the native fish and wildlife, 334 acres of riparian woodland and eight acres of bottomland hardwood were established along with the planting of 20,000 trees.
"Planting the trees will provide shade and organic input to the water as well as helping insect production food," said Kelly. "In 15-20 years when the canopy has developed it will be a very impressive view."
Along with the vegetation planted along the river, the Mission Reach project provides walking trails and bike paths, and will use portals to connect the San Antonio River to the four historic missions along the river.
As Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff eloquently explained with a poem, "The River runs south, and native Indians followed it and settled along its banks. The river runs south, and the Spaniards followed it, building the four missions: Concepción, San José, San Juan and Espada. The river runs south and now, finally, we will follow it, hiking, biking, walking, running and some of us will stop to build homes and businesses along its banks."
According to Kelly, the missions were established in order to benefit from the wealth of resources from San Antonio River. "Today the missions which still have working parishes will reconnect the local communities to the river," said Kelly
The project is being funded by Bexar County, the city of San Antonio, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the San Antonio River Foundation and the San Antonio River Authority, which is overseeing the project.
"As we stand here on the banks of the historical San Antonio River, looking at the great work already completed on the project, we can all agree that it represents a truly remarkable transformation of the River," said Col. Richard J. Muraski, Jr., commander, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Fort Worth District.
"From this point to when the project is complete, you can take pride in the fact that Mission Reach was made possible through the partnerships between the Corps, San Antonio River Authority, Bexar County, the City of San Antonio and many of our other project partners," said Muraski.