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Monday, July 14, 2008

The Greenbelt Report: Take a Walk With Me...

It isn't by accident that the name of this Blog bears the name of the neighborhood I live in and my particular Zip code. When you see the banner at the top with me sitting in a Texas tub on a wooden deck inviting you to learn more about my place, I really mean it - I love this place and I'm happy to tell you about it.

Partially through the people I have met via these occasional dispatches, and probably more so because my wife and I have become involved residents in our neighborhood, I have been encouraged to look beyond the street we live on and learn more about my surroundings and how they impact me, my family and my neighbors.

To this end, we have become more involved with things like the neighborhood watch, the A-Team, and attending the monthly meetings of our association board of directors. My feeling is, if you are going to pay the fees required by an HOA, you ought to at least be involved, if only in the slightest way, so you can be sure your input is heard and vote responsibly each year.

Our association is huge - we have roughly 5,000 homes in seven different sub-divisions and we are equipped with pools, a lodge, parks, athletic fields, tennis courts, basketball facilities and a a large Greenbelt.
The first time I had any real exposure to the Greenbelt area in the Great Northwest, the 41 acres of dry creek bed, oaks and open field, was during a GNW Green Day celebration. I was conscious of the space between Timberwilde and Tezel that backs up to our community lodge and soccer fields and many homes in the Silver Creek subdivision, but I simply had never taken the time to walk in the area to see it for myself.

Following my GNW Green Day experience, seeing first hand just how much space we have, and sadly, seeing how much of it was being abused by a handful of residents, vandals and litterbugs, I was really encouraged when our Board of Directors and the staff took steps to begin a process of clearing the area.

I wish I could tell you I was writing from the perspective of some sort of nature conservationist or even that of an athlete who looks forward to an open space for running or other outdoor activities; the greenbelt could serve well for people wishing to enjoy a nice walk, a rugged mountain bike ride or even a run with different scenery. Instead, I write from the view of a homeowner seeking to maintain the facilities and amenities that increase the values of our property and as a person who feels that the greenbelt should not be a place to harbor a threat to security or become an avenue for escape by petty criminals on the run.

However you view it, I would hope that we can agree that the greenbelt is an amenity to the community and the residents, no different than the pools, parks or activity fields. And in the same way that some residents would push for stadium seating, AstroTurf, and a retractable roof over the soccer fields, and others are just happy to limit it to mowed fields and a few goals, we each may have differing views as to how much of an investment should be put into the greenbelt. One thing we do know is that the greenbelt will from time to time be flooded.

However you feel about the greenbelt, its impact on you as someone who may or may never walk the full length of the space, and how much effort should be expended to maintain it, I hope to at least give you an idea of the scope of the problem.
On a recent Saturday morning, I put on hiking shoes, jeans, plenty of sunscreen and a cap, grabbed my camera and begin walking at the Tezel Road end of the greenbelt. At this point, the Tezel Road Bridge covers drainage infrastructure that is for the most part graffiti-free, thanks to repeated coats of paint. A convenience store is to the east of the greenbelt and on the southwest, homes from the Silver Creek street of Ridge Run.Remember, this area is primarily a dry creek bed that serves as drainage. But upon entering the area, it is clear that some residents have attempted to use the area to enhance the space and enjoyment of their property. I would do the same.

This northwest end of the green belt has not had the full benefit of the work the association maintenance department has underway, and so almost immediately my walk had me thinking some of the same thoughts I had on Earth Day – what a waste. You should know, as a person paying assessments and in a sense, an owner of this area, that a handful of your fellow residents are using this area as a dump.
It is one thing to toss a small tree limb over your fence knowing that in time, it might be carried away (to someone else’s greenbelt?); it is wholly another thing to simply toss your trash, construction materials, and yes, motor oil in this space.

A common theme of many hikers and conservationists is to take a garbage bag with you to not only carry out any water bottles or granola wrappers you take in, but to be a good person and pick up trash you encounter during your walk. I think this is a great idea, but in all honesty, we’re going to need more than a few friendly hikers to fix this problem.
Workers have piled up trash along the green belt, I assume with the intention of hauling it out at some point. That’s fine, but I have to assume that this is a problem that will continue to happen, over and over again until the place is made to be more open/available to constant use which in effect may deter some residents from using it as a dump, or we figure out who the violators are and take action.In the short term, crews have worked to remove some of the foliage that backs up to resident’s property facing the greenbelt. This does a number of things: clears out the space to make it easier for people to walk along the fence lines safely, cleans up the space to reduce fire hazard, and hopefully, lets residents know that the place is intended to be clean, not a dumping ground.You should know that not everyone is pleased. Some residents feel that at least with the overgrowth of weeds and brush, juveniles were less likely to hang out, tag fences and peer into people’s yards. Please understand, if this space is used as intended, it won’t be the haven for underage beer drinkers, taggers and thieves that it has been in the past. If I had my way, there would be a clear enough path to allow a security vehicle to make occasional patrols along the length of the space, if only to insure it is not a haven for overnight guests.I have written of many negative things because I want the people who live here to understand just what we are dealing with. Now, I’d like to focus on the positive attributes of this area in hopes that you will join me in pushing for more action to make this space what it could be.If you look at the greenbelt in small manageable sections, there are nice rock formations to climb on, wide open areas large enough to accommodate a football game or soccer match. With little effort even now, you can easily walk from one end by Tezel to the other by Timberwilde without fear of breaking an ankle or falling off a cliff. I'd like to think that once the current project is complete, you could easily take a dog for a walk or walk with elementary aged children here. Unless a graded path is made, I wouldn't attempt taking a stroller through the area.

I mentioned when I wrote about the GNW Green Day visit, that I could see the potential of this space being like Cathedral Rock Park, which is really just an extension of the same dry creek bed. In retrospect, anything is possible, I suppose, but in reality, the City of San Antonio had a far bigger budget to work with in creating that natural area.
I guess what I am hoping for is that somehow, we can generate some interest in the residents who live near the greenbelt to help with the current problem. If they don't care about what is directly behind their homes, why should those of us who don't live near there or will never walk through it?If we can just get the residents to at very minimum, stop using the place as a dumpster, that alone would go a long way to making it a better place. Next, for the more motivated residents along the greenbelt, if they would only consider simply checking the space behind their homes on an occasional basis for trash, debris and such, and either picking it up or reporting it to the GNW staff so something can be done, that would help.I don't expect the GNW Maintenance crew to run out every time someone calls in to say that they have spotted a stray water bottle laying in the greenbelt, but I do know that there are a few avenues that can be worked to assist people who may see problems behind their homes but can't (or won't) take action.

Obviously, I am a supporter of The A-Team, a group of people who volunteer to help with projects around the Great Northwest. But also, the County and the City have programs where youth offenders can be put to work in neighborhoods to work off community service hours. We can use these programs to help with the greenbelt problem.

Beyond the residents who live directly behind the greenbelt, I'd ask other GNW folks to consider walking at least part of the area. By far, the most accessible spaces today are those directly behind the lodge and the soccer fields. We have a beautiful picnic area with grills that most people simply don't even know about.

If you are concerned about safety - encountering animals or people - I would point out that aside from the open space visible to people at the Silver Creek pool and the fields, most of the length of the greenbelt is within shouting distance of homes. As I walked through the area, it was easy to hear, and occasionally see people doing yard work, dogs barking, and kids playing in yards. I did not encounter a single snake, raccoon or opossum during my walk, but I will tell you that at least in the thicker areas near the creek bed, mosquitoes were present.

I don't believe the 2008 budget calls for any projects to be done in the greenbelt beyond standard maintenance issues. But enjoying the space and taking a garbage bag to help is free. I'd like to see people work with the staff to take on small sections for clean-up and debris removal. Perhaps a church, scouts or school club would like to come in for a morning to do some light clean-up and use the grills and picnic areas for lunch afterward. I'd like to see more use of "community serivce" assets, and of course, it would be nice if we could get more volunteers to join the A-Team to help with causes like this.

At the end of the day however, this greenbelt could just as easily go untouched and simply be a lost cause - a haven for undesirables, juvenile delinquents and people too lazy to haul their junk to a dumpster. When I think about it, I have no idea what my privacy fence looks like from my neighbor's yard, so it is easy for me to make suggestions about what other people should do with the other side of their fence. I don't have to deal with that issue.
But I would submit that many people who purchased along the greenbelt area did so with the idea that their living space would be enhanced by having such a wide open and beautiful area. So what happened?If you can, take your own walk and see the potential. Let the board know if you feel as I do, that at some point in the budgets for the next few years, we should prepare to fund more clean-up and at least some slight amenities to this area. I think we should have numerous trash receptacles placed throughout the greenbelt and have them emptied at least weekly. I think we should have a path through this area that, perhaps not suitable for regular traffic, but certainly accessible by both maintenance and security.

I am eager to learn what people who live in the GNW think about this area as well as ideas from people who live elsewhere and have dealt with the same type of issues. Please, leave a comment or tell me about it here.


Anonymous said...

Hey Dave,

Very nice article and pictures.

Braun Station West

Dave said...

Thanks, Tony!

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I love to observe the odd things happening around me as I go about my day. I especially like it when I can get a picture of people being themselves. Here, I attempt to report the various people and events I have encountered in my neighborhood, and my city. I'd also love to hear from you. Feel free to e-mail your experiences and photos of life in San Antonio.

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