River Walk lights draw praise, criticism

Conservation Society shares holiday lighting concerns

By Charles Gonzalez - Anchor/Reporter

SAN ANTONIO - This fall, San Antonio city officials moved ahead with a plan to renovate the River Walk holiday lights, replacing 85,000 old incandescent bulbs with nearly 2 million LED lights.

"It's just amazing when you get under 1.8 million lights and up as high as sixty, seventy feet," said the city's downtown operations director Paula Stallcup. "The whole goal here was we had a whole new lighting plan using LED and energy-efficient lighting and created a whole new look and a whole new opportunity to come see the River Walk in a whole new light."

Reactions from residents and tourists haven't all been as glowing as Stallcup's. "People like it and some people don't like it. I think it's going to be all a matter of opinion and I think you're going to have people who are used to seeing it one way," said Stallcup in reference to the former arrangement where lights hung down from the trees.

Now, nearly 200 trees have their trunks wrapped in thousands of lights.

A move that prompted concerns from the San Antonio Conservation Society after the city originally planned to keep the trees wrapped year-round. However, a city forester assured them they wouldn't stay on forever.

"The trees will be unwrapped every three years so there should be no problems with stunting their growth," said Nancy Hamner Avellar, president of the society.

While the society doesn't work in concert with the city in regards to the lighting project, it has brought up other concerns including the stringing of lights along the bridges over the river, many of which are historic.

"Any kind of penetration with drilling or screws or method of affixing these lights could possibly structurally compromise the bridges," said Avellar, who said both the Texas Historic Commission and Historic Bridge Foundation agreed with the society's assessment.

"That was the same concern that was raised by the city's Historic Design and Review Commission members and that's why they sent us back and said, 'OK, you have to develop a plan that requires less intrusive activity on the bridges because of their historic nature,'" said Stallcup.

The lights strung along the bridges this year are temporary and rest on plastic tracks.

The holiday lights will stay lit through Sunday, Jan. 8. Stallcup said the city has had discussions with Paseo del Rio and River Walk businesses to possibly allow them to light up some of the remaining unlit trees along the river between the historic section and La Villita.

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