Greening up San Antonio

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It’s been a long time since the residents of San Antonio heard the crack of a ball against a bat in the local park, or picnicked in the grass on a balmy day, and for good reason. Not enough grass. Too many goatheads.

Where once the local townspeople gathered on summer evenings to root for their home team against the teams of the surrounding communities is now a patch of dusty real estate that people drive by without a second thought, on their way to the highway or the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge.

That could soon change, however, if Socorro County wins a grant from the Colonias Fund, set up to help qualifying rural communities raise the quality of life and spur economic development through infrastructure improvements.

“I have a really good feeling about this,” County Manager Delilah Walsh said at a recent public hearing on the San Antonio Park Improvement Plan held at the neighboring fire station. “I think we have a good chance.”

The project is, in a sense, San Antonio’s own field of dreams, and the reasoning is much the same: if we build it, they will come.

The plan is to surround the old park with a windbreak of plants and trees; build a new baseball field with bleachers; add basketball and volleyball courts, a horseshoe pit, and install fitness and playground equipment. There would be a big grassy area for running around in, a shade structure and barbecue grills for picnics and parties, and plenty of parking.

The design for the park project was actually created in 2008, and a public hearing was held in 2009, but at the time, funding was nowhere to be found. However, with a measure of foresight — and optimism — the county board of commissioners designated San Antonio as a “colonia” in 1995 with the idea of being able to tap into Colonias funding if and when it became available. And hearing that money might in fact become available this year, Walsh and the current county commissioners moved the project into the top five items on the county’s Infrastructure Capital Improvement Plan, just in case.

According to the USDA and the Department of Housing and Urban Development, a colonia is defined as a non-metropolitan, unincorporated neighborhood within 150 miles of the US-Mexico border that lack sewer, water or decent housing, or some combination of the three.

“Obviously, San Antonio is one of the most northern colonias in the state,” Walsh said. “And the funding has to involve water, utilities, road and housing projects.”

The purpose of the public hearing was to get input from the community, and see if residents will get behind the idea of turning the old park into an oasis of green, and think it’s a worthwhile project that would benefit San Antonio.

The response, from the dozen or so people who were able to attend, was a resounding “yes.”

Walsh already has letters of support from the San Antonio Fire Department, San Antonio Elementary School, the San Antonio Water Association and the city of Socorro to accompany her grant proposal. As the public hearing moved forward, the ideas about how the new park would benefit the community flowed fast and furious.

Besides reviving the hometown baseball team, residents talked about having a place to hold community events, a safer location for vendors, who currently camp out on the side of the highway on the weekends market their wares, and a site to gather for a weekly farmers’ market.

The proximity to the community center was also considered a big advantage, and the nearness to the school. A few people talked about creating a connecting path between the park and the school, to give the kids safe access. Volunteer Fire Chief Fred Hollis pointed out that while the nearby refuge is a great resource for the community, it’s not a great place for kids to play, and he said he thought the area’s senior citizens would enjoy using the fitness area and walking path.

It would also give refuge visitors and travelers passing through on N.M. 380 a place to stop and rest, and eat sandwiches and ice cream cones from the local store, instead of continuing on to Socorro for lunch.

Some suggestions included setting aside an area for people to pitch tents, and designating an area, without hook-ups, for RV’s to park overnight. Another suggestion was to include some kind of marker or sign with historical information for tourists.

Shirleen Greenwood said she could see so many people wanting to use the park for parties and family events that there might be a need for a scheduler, or a caretaker.

“It sounds like the community would really use it,” Walsh observed.

“We really would,” Greenwood said. “We just don’t like the goatheads and the stickers.”

As the meeting progressed, people were already talking about what the community could do to help the project, and how they would take care of the park and keep it up when it’s completed.

Walsh said the Colonias board would make its decisions on the grant applications by May, and if the county was awarded funding for the park, the money would be available in July. She’s applying for about $375,000.

San Antonio would then have up to two years to complete the project and spend the money, but Walsh’s timeline is much shorter. She expects to be able to get it done and ready for baseball season by next spring, in just nine months.

 


-- Email the author at sbarteau@dchieftain.com.