Suddenly, in the midst of an arid landscape of dire challenges, here was an unexpected oasis – brimming with life.
THE FIRST SPANISH EXPLORERS to arrive in the environs of San Pedro Creek and the nearby San Antonio River attested to a panorama of natural beauty and abundance, full of promise as a place to create a lasting settlement. San Pedro Creek drains a watershed of about 45 square miles on San Antonio’s west side. Along most of its course, the creek closely parallels the San Antonio River to the east, and its major tributaries – Martínez, Alazán, and Apache creeks – feed into it from the west.
Spanish explorers, who camped by the creek three hundred years ago, reported ample, high quality water, lush vegetation, and plentiful game and fish in the area. For early settlers the area was an oasis in the otherwise arid landscape. In its natural state, the creek provided habitat for a wide variety of aquatic plants and animals. Over time weather cycles caused extreme floods that carved new channels, altered banks, and resulted in loss of life and property, while drought killed vegetation and caused wildlife to relocate.
Beginning in the early 1900s, in an effort to alleviate devastating flooding, the channel was straightened, widened, and lined with stone and concrete, banks were sloped, and vegetation was removed. Though efforts to tame the creek were generally successful, they resulted in the unfortunate loss of natural habitat and changed the relationship between residents of adjoining neighborhoods and the creek. The San Pedro Creek Improvements Project, one of several major stream enhancement efforts by Bexar County, the City of San Antonio, and the San Antonio River Authority, returned the creek to a more natural state while maintaining flood control. The revitalized creek provides improved water quality, increased biological diversity, and renewed opportunities for people to enjoy this historic urban waterway and reflect on its extraordinary legacy.
Large bigclaw river shrimp were once found in the San Antonio River drainage. This one, held by Marguerite Goodspeed, was caught in 1927.
Yellow-crowned night herons are large birds that inhabit most wetlands from coastal marshes to wooded streams. These ambush predators patiently watch from the creek banks, waiting to grab a crawfish or other prey. While primarily nocturnal, these birds also feed during the day.
The Guadalupe spiny soft-shelled turtle is found only in the San Antonio and Nueces river drainages of South Central Texas. It is totally dependent on the streams where it lives, leaving the water only to bask and lay eggs. Soft-shells feed on fish and other aquatic animals.
Plants are an important part of the creek ecosystem. Some plants such as yellow pond lily have leaves that float on the water’s surface. Other plants such as pickerelweed emerge out of shallow water with their leaves and flowers extending above the water surface. Bald cypress are majestic trees that grow along creeks and rivers and can reach heights of 75 feet or taller. Mealy blue sage is a perennial wildflower that grows in the riparian environment. These plants provide shade, cover, and food for wildlife including pollinators and birds.