A new section of the Leon Creek Greenway Trail, completed in June, pushes the city’s greenway trail system further into the southwest side near Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland.
The 1.9-mile stretch of trail passes through an area with several unusual landmarks – a replica of Jerusalem’s Western Wall, a contaminated segment of Leon Creek (more on that later), and a closed dump. It ends at the Lackland Corridor Gateway Park, a public and natural art space near the JBSA-Lackland entrance at the US 90 and West Military Drive interchange.
One of the minor tragedies of building a civilization around the automobile is that I never noticed the park’s 75-foot metal sculpture as it passed in my car at 65 mph. From the trail, I could actually appreciate the monument.
The sculpture, titled “Tribute to Freedom,” was completed in 2019 and meant to depict the four branches of the armed forces surrounding a central obelisk that evokes the Washington Monument. Changing light throughout the day transforms the monument into a sundial, casting shadows in unpredictable patterns around the pews at its base. At night, a white light illuminates the sculpture six days a week, with blue light on Fridays to commemorate the weekly batch of approximately 500 new Air Force Basic Training graduates.
The military takes center stage, but the park also makes room for nature, with the city of San Antonio installing a rain garden with native plants at the base of the sculpture to capture and filter the rainwater that runs through it. flow from the parking lot. When first built, the Rain Garden was probably a fine example of green infrastructure, although the invasive Johnson grass has spread rampantly since then.
Leon Creek Greenway: Rodriguez Park to Lackland Corridor Gateway Park
Offers: Walk, bike
Location: Trailhead Arvil Avenue (29.412177, -98.6153546) to Lackland Corridor Gateway Park (6534 Military Drive W, San Antonio, TX 78227)
Route miles: About 3
TOILET: Portable toilets and running water at Rodriguez Park, Levi Strauss Park and Lackland Corridor Gateway Park
The monument is the most interesting sight along the new segment of trail, but a few other places are worth mentioning. First, signs warn hikers not to eat fish caught in this part of Leon Creek. No other stream or river in our area has this distinction. According to the state health department, people “should not consume any species of fish from Leon Creek between the Old Highway 90 bridge and the Loop 410 bridge” nearly 7 miles to the south.
Fish in this area can contain high levels of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), highly carcinogenic chemicals formerly used in heavy industry and banned in the United States in 1978. Often referred to as “permanent chemicals”, PCBs are notoriously difficult to eliminate completely and tend to accumulate in animal tissue. The creek segment is near the former Kelly Air Force Base, the site of a major environmental cleanup effort, but federal scientists wrote in a 2011 report that more sampling would be needed to ” draw more definitive conclusions about the sources of PCBs”.
This makes sense, given the concentration of other former industrial areas in the area. After following the Lackland Fence Line, the trail passes by a former municipal landfill located directly on the west bank of Leon Creek, an unlikely scenario under modern regulations. Closed in the 1980s, the landfill is now just a grassy hill surrounded by a chain-link fence.
Another park along the trail, Camargo Park, got its start as the city’s gravel pit in the 1920s. A cluster of trees saved from sawing has become an oasis for nearby residents and s is then turned into a park called Pablo’s Grove. The city renamed it after the 1982 death of Spanish-language radio personality Mateo Camargo, and the park is now primarily a public event space.
Just west of Camargo Park, the trail passes by the New Life Christian Center, a complex that includes a church, private school, and fields with flagpoles displaying the American, Israeli, and Christian flags. Visitors are allowed to stroll through the church’s prayer garden, which features a 9/11 memorial with a perpetually lit flame, a replica of the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City, and a small pond.
Although I liked the new south extension for bringing the trail closer to Pearsall Park and one day south of the Medina River Natural Area, I found the short segment of Leon Creek Greenway north of Levi Strauss Park was a nicer stretch of trail. .
Although the trail was completed nearly 10 years ago, I had never visited the segment that connects Strauss Park, Rodriguez Park, and the Arvil Avenue trailhead of the greenway. Strauss Park is a poor access point for bicycles and wheelchairs due to the approximately 20 feet of stairs required to descend from the parking lot into the greenway itself.
Access is much easier from the Arvil Avenue and Rodriguez Park car parks. From there, the trail makes a 2.6 mile loop through a densely forested patch of urban land. This shaded area was 10 degrees cooler than the open patches of the trail, and couples and families were walking and biking in the shade.
This patch of forest also struck me for having one of the most abundant concentrations of mustang grapes I have ever seen. Climbing vines with woody stems and broad leaves covered the trees on both sides of the path, dropping their ripe fruit in dark purple spots on the concrete.
These grapes are too bitter and sour to eat more than one or two, but I’ve heard mustang grape wine isn’t bad. Texas has a long tradition of making homemade beer from wild grapes. This report from a U.S. patent agent states that a former mayor of San Antonio gave him 10 bottles of mustang wine during a visit in 1859. More than 160 years later, people still share their recipes in Texas by seeking social media groups and forums.
The western half of the trail loop is less grape-draped and more forested, with the trail to Slick Ranch Creek, a creek flowing south of Tom Slick Park a mile to the north. The next Leon Creek Greenway trailhead is on Military Drive, about half a mile north of Tom Slick Park.
These gaps between trail sections include land owned by developers, investment companies, and other private owners. While the overall goal is to connect them to the main Leon Creek Greenway, the city has yet to announce specific plans for joining the segments.