This entry to the river is worth lingering over, to admire the gardens and to read the inscriptions representing the voices of the native peoples of these lands.
EAGLELAND/KING WILLIAM REACH
Just to the south of downtown is a stretch of the River Walk that isn’t new, but few visitors to the city make it this far from the bustling heart of the old Paseo del Rio. Venture a little further south and you’ll find a quiet stretch of river that passes through the historic King William neighborhood, with its graceful mansions dating to the early 1800s.
King William is home to innumerable artist galleries, restaurants and cafes, and it’s a lovely place to while away an afternoon. Until recently, the River Walk ended there. Now, however, it’s just the beginning of a whole new river project.
Continuing along to the Eagleland reach, you can leave the river at the Blue Star Arts Complex and Brewery. Here at this collection of artist studios and loft apartments, you can get a taste of the local arts community — or of a fresh local brew. Or, you can rent a bicycle and ride along an entirely different stretch of the San Antonio River — a river that’s returning to its roots.
THE MISSION REACH
This last stretch of river is the most ambitious — not only because it’s the longest, at eight miles, but also because the goal is to restore the natural ecosystem while reconnecting the river to the four historic missions that once were intimately connected to it. On July 2, another section opened, making 3 1/4 miles available to the public; another mile is expected to be open by November.
At first blush, this stretch of river, which will take years to return to a natural riparian habitat, might not seem as exciting as its more urban counterparts. But to those who appreciate the wildlife that is beginning to return to its waters, it is quite a thrill — a delightful place to gather and walk, fish or simply be still and enjoy the sounds of nature.
It’s also a great way to get onto the San Antonio Mission Trail and explore one of San Antonio’s greatest historic gems: the largest concentration of colonial missions in North America. Missions Concepcion and San Juan are just a short distance from the water, and a section of the river will be rerouted to where it flowed in the 1700s, restoring the other missions — San José and Espada — to their historic riverside glory. The entire Mission Reach, scheduled to be finished next year, will include a series of portals that relate the history of each mission and its connection to the river.
Wherever you enter the river, your experience will be different — but watch out. The flowing, living thread that connects this city may well connect you to San Antonio, too.
Tracy L. Barnett is the former travel editor of the San Antonio Express-News and the Houston Chronicle.