Tuesday, January 5, 2010

"River Walk cleanup is a drag for tourists"

No, they don't drain the San Antonio River along the famed Riverwalk looking for lost tourists!  It is a drag for those who chose to visit the Riverwalk in January because that is the time the city annually drains the river to give the river bottom a good cleaning.  In an article in the San Antonio Express News, reporter Vianna Davila tells the story of the annual ritual.

The scene could break a tourist’s heart.  The San Antonio River Walk — normally full of water and its walkways usually flush with visitors — was decidedly empty Monday afternoon.  “We were a bit disappointed,” admitted Betsy Price, visiting with her husband from Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.  They had wanted to take a nice river stroll and only later realized they’d arrived in town just in time for the annual river draining.  “But you know,” Price said, “it has to be done.”

It’s a tradition visitors and businesses owners along the River Walk have no choice but to accept. The city drains the river for an annual cleanup every January, in which workers remove trash and debris that has accumulated over the year — tables, chairs, silverware and cell phones — plus check the drainage system to ensure its functionality.  “There’s a lot of very surprised people,” said Kent Oliver, a supervisor at Rio San Antonio Cruises, a company that provides river barge tours.  During one previous cleanup, the river clearly drained of any water, one visitor asked Oliver if they could still get a boat ride later that evening. 

Workers started draining the river around midnight Sunday, a process that takes about 24 hours to finish, said April Hernandez, public relations manager for the city’s Public Works Department.  The river should be refilled by Jan. 14, Hernandez said.  This year’s cleanup is several days longer than previous efforts because workers are also removing sediment that has built up along the river bottom in the south loop and extension; next year, the north loop will be cleaned. The project is the first of its kind on the River Walk, Hernandez said. 

While some tourists lament the water’s disappearance, businesses along the river took the opportunity to spruce up.  Oliver and his coworkers were busy Monday touching up the handrails beside their ticket booth with green spray paint. Down river, workers painted outside chairs and tables at the Republic of Texas restaurant; they are closed until Friday. 

But the cleanup endeavor is not without setbacks: on Monday afternoon, a track loader scooping out silt in front of Durty Nelly’s Irish Pub suddenly found itself stuck in the very mud it was trying to remove.  A larger, front-end loader arrived and tried to pull the smaller loader out with a chain, while tourists along the walk gawked and snapped photos.  A dazzled 7-year-old Nolan Borkowski, visiting with his family from Austin, stared at the giant machine, hunched over like a defeated yellow giant. A puzzled Nolan asked why would anyone put a crane in the water?  “It’s an attraction in itself to see the river drained,” said his mother, Julie Borkowski, who had already brought her family to the river Sunday night for one last-minute barge ride. 
But the transformed waterway, unfortunately, did not quite satisfy Nolan’s taste.  “When it was full of water, it was like a beautiful river,” he said. And now? “It’s not as beautiful as it was.”

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