Greenways & River Walks

Featured Article, On the Road, Travel Destinations
on May 22, 2013

From the Snake River Greenbelt in Idaho Falls, Idaho, to the Naperville (Ill.) Riverwalk to the Roanoke Valley Greenways in Virginia, metropolitan and scenic pathways provide thousands of miles of nonmotorized trails where people can recreate, relax, explore and savor nature’s wonders.

“Greenways are incredibly popular. Communities want them to compete for livability and to attract businesses,” says greenway developer Robert Searns, co-author of “Greenways, A Guide to Planning, Design, and Development.”

“Greenways heal the landscape and the landscape of the mind,” says Searns, 66. “People need access to these green spaces to get away from tension and to be physically active.”

Searns helped design one of the nation’s first greenways, Denver’s Platte River Greenway, in the 1970s. The once-blighted downtown corridor today is an active and attractive intersection of more than 100 miles of pedestrian and paddling trails, whitewater chutes and riverside parks.

Residents of Pueblo, Colo., also revitalized their downtown with the nearly 2-mile-long Historic Arkansas Riverwalk of Pueblo (HARP).

“This area was a parking lot with culverts and trash. It was pretty ugly,” says HARP spokeswoman Lynn Clark, 50, about the picturesque waterfront park that opened in 2000. Today, people float in gondolas, pedal recreational boats, and walk and jog along the waterfront path.

“It’s beautiful here, a great place to walk the dogs,” says Suzy Baca, 52, as she and her husband, Gary, 57, stroll with their dogs—Shelby, McGilla, Royal and Peanut. Pueblo’s riverwalk features bronze sculptures, stone fountains and hand-carved granite benches.

In Texas, San Antonio’s historical urban corridor remains a model for river walks and greenways in more than 500 cities and towns across America.

Built during the 1930s as a Works Progress Administration project, the San Antonio River Walk meanders for more than 5 miles on both sides of the San Antonio River and features stone arches, bridges and walkways landscaped with native vegetation. Serene in the mornings, the River Walk gets lively with mariachi music when its 150 shops and restaurants open.

At Boudro’s restaurant, employee Gary Neidermayer, 50, wheels a cart of avocados, limes and oranges to an outdoor table and whips up a batch of guacamole. Nearby, a water taxi glides by and passengers smile and wave. Around the bend, a couple exchange wedding vows under a centuries-old cypress tree on Marriage Island.

“You feel like you’re transformed to another world on the River Walk,” says Nancy Hunt, 59, executive director of The Paseo del Rio Association, which directs events in the city-owned park. “Part of its charm is the river is so narrow that you feel connected to the other side.”

“Thank goodness this didn’t get paved over,” she adds.

After deadly floods in 1921, city leaders considered diverting the downtown portion of the river into an underground pipe and paving over it. But architect Robert Hugman envisioned lush landscaped pedestrian pathways and river-level shops along the horseshoe-shaped bend in the river with a dam and flood-control gates to maintain the river level.

Melissa Shultz, 37, runs along a stone path beneath cypress and palm trees on the San Antonio River Walk, enjoying the cool morning air and solitude.

“It’s shaded and quiet, and I love seeing the ducks and frogs,” says Shultz about the green oasis in downtown San Antonio. “It’s a great public place.”

“I’m proud that our city has this,” says Sarah Mumme, 29, who strolls the River Walk nearly every day with her Labrador retriever, Mitch.