Though the concept for creation of the Mission Trails hike-and-bike system was originally developed in 1993, the project was part of a continuous tradition of preserving and improving public access to the San Antonio mission system that has been ongoing for almost a century. San Antonio has always been renowned as the home of “the greatest concentration of Catholic missions in North America,” including Mission San Antonio de Valero (the Alamo), Mission Concepción, Mission San José, Mission San Juan Capistrano, and Mission San Francisco de la Espada.
These missions represented the impetus for permanent settlement in the area, and documented efforts to preserve the resources began during the 1920s when entities such as the Archdiocese of San Antonio, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, and the San Antonio Conservation Society, among others, made concerted efforts to repair, interpret, and provide access to the Missions. In 1978, the United States Congress created the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park. This designation recognized the national significance of the mission system and pledged funding as well as the assistance of the National Park Service in future preservation efforts.
As San Antonio’s status as a tourist destination increased during the late twentieth century, tourists and city officials alike realized the difficulty members of the public had accessing missions south of the Alamo.
The roadways leading to the Missions were not well defined, and signage and pedestrian and/or cycling access was limited. Additionally, historians and other interested parties, including employees of the National Park Service who maintained the mission facilities, recognized that the significance of the mission system was not limited to the buildings themselves.
While their presence shaped the modern landscape of the City, other associated resources such as the historic trails that once connected the Missions and the acequia system that allowed for irrigated agriculture on mission lands and in the communities that developed around the missions, also determined early settlement and subsistence patterns.
Typical view of hike and bike route
In an effort to recognize the importance of these early corridors while providing additional access to the mission facilities, the City of San Antonio applied for and received a transportation enhancement grant from the Texas Transportation Commission. At the time of its award, the proposed project was the largest enhancement project in Texas (by dollar amount). The size of the award reflects the significance of the Missions, both historically and as modern tourist attractions.
As originally envisioned, the project included improvements to and construction of pedestrian and bicycle facilities, improvements to existing roadways to facilitate increased vehicular traffic to the Missions, aesthetic improvements along the Mission Trails Reach through landscaping and signage, and definition of both a “wet” or “scenic” river route and a “dry” or “direct” vehicular route to the Missions.
These improvements would provide a better image of the area to residents and visitors and thus increase tourism, visitation, and commercial development along the Trail route. The Trail would also provide a link between many of the City’s top tourist attractions and offer opportunities for interpretation and identification of additional historic and cultural resources in the area.
The project was constructed in phases. The San Antonio City Council created the Mission Trails Project Oversight Committee in 1995. The Committee included representatives from various neighborhood organizations, the City’s Planning Commission and Parks and Recreation Board, Chambers of Commerce, the San Antonio Conservation Society, the National Park Service, American Indians in Texas at the Missions, and other political entities. Between 1995 and 1996, the City hosted over 33 open meetings to invite the public to comment on the proposed route alignments, the various enhancements, and other issues.
By 2002, construction of Phase I from Mission Espada to Loop 13 (S.E. Military Highway) was complete. Phases II and III were complete by 2007. Phase II was subdivided into separate phases (called Phase II and Phase IIA) constructed at different times. Phase II involved improvements from Loop 13 to East Southcross Boulevard, and Phase IIA involved work along Roosevelt Avenue from Woodhull to San Jose Street. Phase III encompassed improvements along Mission Road from East Southcross to Mitchell Street. The final two phases (IV and V) were cleared for construction in 2011. Phase IV included proposed improvements from Mitchell Street to the Alamo, while Phase V included signage and other aesthetic improvements along the length of the Trail from Mission Espada to the Alamo. These phases of the project were completed in 2015.
Typical view of Mission Trails vehicular and bike route
Mission Trails route just north of S. Alamo St.
Trail head at Eagleland Dr. and San Antonio River