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Photo courtesy of San Antonio Food Bank

Turkey Trot is the San Antonio Food Bank’s annual 5K Run/Walk that raises funds to help feed families during the holidays. It will start and end in front of the Commander’s House at H-E-B’s Arsenal campus, with the route going through downtown and the Historic King William Neighborhood.

Courtesy photo

2 San Antonio-area counties weigh in among country's healthiest, says U.S. News

Taking the temperature

For babies and baby boomers alike, Kendall County and Comal County stand out among the healthiest counties in the U.S. According to a new study by U.S. News & World Report, Kendall and Comal County came in at No. 91 and No. 453, respectively, on its list of the 500 healthiest counties in the country.

U.S. News assessed 2,735 of the 3,143 counties across the U.S. but ranked only 500 of them. The healthiest county in Texas was Dallas neighbor Collin County, which landed at No. 50 nationally.

For the study, U.S. News examined 89 metrics across 10 categories tied to health:

  1. Community health
  2. Health, income, education, and social equity
  3. Education
  4. Economy
  5. Housing
  6. Food and nutrition
  7. Environment
  8. Public safety
  9. Community vitality
  10. Infrastructure

Kendall County earned its highest score in the community vitality category (91); its lowest score was in the environment category (46). Data published by U.S. News highlights Kendall County’s health status. For instance:

  • The typical life expectancy is 81.6 years, compared with 77.5 years nationwide and 79.2 years statewide.
  • The smoking rate is 13.5 percent, compared with 20 percent nationwide and 15.5 percent statewide.
  • The obesity prevalence is 31.3 percent, compared with 36.2 percent nationwide; diabetes prevalence is 9.4 percent, compared with 10.4 percent nationwide.

Comal County earned its highest score in the community vitality category (83) and its lowest score in the environment (43). Other highlights for Comal County include:

  • The typical life expectancy is 79.7 years.
  • The smoking rate is 14.2 percent.
  • The obesity prevalence was 33.1 percent; diabetes prevalence is 9.9 percent.

Other Texas counties that fared well in the U.S. News study are:

  • No. 70 Rockwall County (Dallas). Its highest score was in the economy category (87), and its lowest score was in the housing category (54).
  • No. 121 Williamson County (Austin) earned its highest score in the economy category (93); its lowest score was in the housing category (52).
  • No. 180 Denton County (Dallas-Fort Worth). Its highest score was in the economy category (88), and its lowest score was in the housing category (43).
  • No. 291 Fort Bend County (Houston). No. 291. Its highest score was in the economy category (90); its lowest score was in the environment category (25).
  • No. 295 Travis County (Austin) earned its highest score in the infrastructure category (92) and its lowest score in the equity category (41).
Rendering courtesy of GameTime

Expansive new San Antonio park sets sail with inclusive playground

Move Yer Booty

“New park” might be a stretch for something that’s already been in the works for years, but that’s what San Antonio will be getting soon. City officials aim to have the first phase of Classen-Steubing Ranch Park open to the public as early as the end of summer 2022.

Funds for these primary developments came from the 2017 city bond program, although some development funding came from Marvin and April Chang, who lost their 3-year-old, Mitchell, to drowning in 2018. The Changs' funding spurred many other contributions over time. They are donating the playground equipment and safety ground cover, along with covering installation costs, while the city manages infrastructure around the playground and through the rest of the park.

"Personally, [I think] the park feels peaceful and like untouched Texas," Chang wrote to CultureMap. "This is how the meadows around San Antonio looked 100 years ago. It is natural Texas in its simplest but most beautiful form."

A playground dubbed Mitchell’s Landing is the main attraction, an expansive themed space that honors Mitchell’s love of pirates and invites all kids for “inclusive play” on a pirate ship, a “thick marsh” and “abandoned Spanish Mission." The playground’s website shares that it is designated a National Demonstration Site by PlayCore, a playground equipment company running initiatives to promote “evidence-based best practices” for play as an educational and community-building practice.

The list of 19 toys, activities, and accessibility considerations on the playground span physical and emotional needs, addressing overstimulation as well as seeking to entertain or teach. A merry-go-round structure is built into the safety ground cover to allow wheels to roll safely on, and "zero gravity expression swings" come in a regular swing shape and one with a higher back for better torso support. Another circular swing projects colors onto the ground for added sensory stimulation, and a "sensory cove climber" provides a small safe space for kids feeling overstimulated, without having to leave the playground.

These play structures were mostly developed by GameTime, a playground equipment supplier, including a brand-new slide design with a safety transition bench. The city also gave input on what it could afford and maintain into the future. But the most meaningful designs came from Mitchell's older brother, Evan, who contributed a beach design and a hammock swing.

Outside Mitchell's Landing, the park will also feature an open play field, two pavilions, an education center with a view, three baseball fields, and a concrete path leaving large areas untouched. The paths will connect with trails through the neighboring Stone Oak Park. Although the entire property spans 204 acres, the developed space is contained to 43 acres.

Park renovations have been thanks to collaboration between a dizzying list of local officials, private citizens, existing conditions both natural and man-made, and family ideals.

San Antonio climbs onto list of best cities for hiking in the U.S.

sort of great heights

Not that there’s anything wrong with the beautiful River Walk, but sometimes you just have to get your shoes dirty. Texas is home to a surprising amount of great hiking, and a new study of 200 U.S. cities places San Antonio at No. 36 for the best hiking nationwide.

The study from lawn care startup LawnStarter is based on 13 criteria, from “hiking access and quality to trail difficulty to natural hazards index.”

With an overall score of 52.06 out of 100 (which sounds borderline bad until you consider the highest score on the chart is 68.37), San Antonio fares best for supplies access, in which the city ranked No. 5 for the number of outdoor gear stores, followed by safety, 18th out of 200, and hiking access, 24th out of 200.

The San Antonio area's quality of hiking — number of hiking routes and campsites — ranks a middling 64th. Its worst ranking is, of course, climate, at No. 112. The number of sunny days, apparently, couldn’t stand a chance against the number of extremely hot ones.

The top 10 U.S. cities for hiking, according to LawnStarter, are:

1. Portland, Oregon
2. Tucson, Arizona
3. Phoenix, Arizona
4. Colorado Springs, Colorado
5. Oakland, California
6. Salt Lake City, Utah
7. Los Angeles, California
8. Boise, Idaho
9. Las Vegas, Nevada
10. San Diego, California

(The 200 cities were chosen based on population, so those small Vermont and New Hampshire towns built around incredible hiking did not get to play.)

Elsewhere in Texas
The highest-ranked Texas city is El Paso, coming in at No. 18, an obvious choice for beautiful desert treks that probably didn’t break the top 10 because of its low hiking access and climate scores. Austin comes in next, at No. 30, with No. 11 rankings for both hiking access and supplies access.

The other Texas cities in the top 100 are as follows: Garland (No. 43), Frisco (No. 55), Dallas (No. 62), Fort Worth (No. 65), McKinney (No. 75), Laredo (No. 82), Houston (No. 92), and Plano (No. 94). Pasadena ranks the worst statewide — and nearly nationwide — at No. 198.

Hikers in and around Garland should be happy to learn the city ranks No. 1 in average consumer rating for hiking trails. Midland suffers from some of the worst consumer ratings, but it happens to rank No. 1 in lowest natural hazard risk. Perhaps it’s just not as exciting when nature is on your side.

With sister cities San Antonio and Austin ranking among the top 20 percent of U.S. hiking, outdoorsy locals have plenty of reason to get outside and take a hike.

Photo courtesy of Spider Mountain Bike Park

Texas' only ski-lift bike park takes you to new heights in the Hill Country

Outdoor adventures

At Spider Mountain Bike Park in Burnet, what goes up must come down.

Located on Lake Buchanan about two hours north of San Antonio in the Hill Country, the attraction is the only year-round ski-lift bike park in the U.S. (In fact, it’s the only place in Texas with a ski-lift, period.)

Opened just before the pandemic, in 2019, the park draws mountain bikers from across the country for its year-round access to downhill, gravity-fueled biking terrain.

Here bikers (and their bikes) ride a chairlift called the Texas Eagle up 350 feet to the mountain’s peak, where they can choose from one of 10 different bike trails — from beginner to expert — to cruise back down.

“To have a chairlift in the middle of the Hill Country is really exciting whether you’re a mountain biker or not,” says Suzy Bauer, Spider Mountain Bike Park general manager. “Because you can enjoy a 360-degree view across the Hill Country and Lake Buchanan.”

Trails average about a mile or two in length and are categorized just like ski slopes, with green for beginners, blue for intermediate, and black for experts. The trails also have fun (and slightly frightening) spider-themed names, like “Itsy Bitsy,” “Venom,” and “Viper’s Den.” All trails are hand-carved or machine-cut, and some contain man-made features like colorful ramps. Some bikers can descent trails as fast as three minutes, while others may take as long as 15 minutes or so.

“In June you might be able to ride a bike park in Crested Butte, Colorado or in Angel Fire, New Mexico, but they close for ski season. We don’t,” says Bauer. “You can hone your skills in a downhill environment, which is pretty different than riding cross-country trails. You’re getting that elevation game and the technicality of a true downhill mountain bike park.”

Bauer says while there’s definitely opportunity for adrenaline junkies to showcase their jumps, speed, and switchback skills on the mountain, the park is also very popular for novice bikers and families. Many guests simply wish to ride the chairlift and walk back down, and there’s a dedicated hiking trail for doing just that. Some even opt to ride the Texas Eagle back down for the most leisurely of Spider Mountain experiences.

There’s also a practice trail on flat ground at the bottom of the mountain. Called “Creepy Crawly,” it’s where mountain biking newbies and even kids can gain confidence in biking on dirt. No lift ticket required.

Hidden from major thoroughfares and busy highways, Spider Mountain Bike Park is a destination for those in the know — and word is spreading. The park has plans to add more trails in the coming months, including a new black trail to keep pushing the envelope.

The park is also affiliated with nearby Thunderbird Lodge, which offers 23 lodging options as well as pontoon boats, kayaking, paddleboarding, and swimming. Bauer says several rooms will undergo renovations in the coming weeks to accommodate a growing clientele.

Spider Mountain Bike Park is open Friday through Sunday year-round, with extended hours during busier weeks. Lift tickets are $59 for adults for all-day access to the Texas Eagle chairlift. Tickets for young adults age 11-18 and seniors 60-plus are $55, and kids 10 and under may ride free.

No mountain bike? No problem. Spider Mountain offers bike rentals, too. Folks who wish to stay on foot and hike back down can pay $10 for all-day access to the chairlift.

Other spots to visit while in Burnet County

Where to stay
Container City
Home to six cabins constructed from the trendy shipping container, Container City opened in November 2019 and sits at the southern foot of Spider Mountain. Each ultra-modern, custom-built cabin is equipped with a full kitchen, comfy beds, shower, TV, internet access, front patio, picnic area, and a dazzling rooftop patio for catching a Hill County sunset with a glass of wine. The property also has RV slips along with an on-site full-service bar, stage for weekend live music, and outdoor pizza kitchen. Rates start at $200 per night for weekend stays ($50 off for a weeknight), and $50 per night for RV slips.

Canyon of the Eagles
This nature-based overnight destination sits on 940 acres on Lake Buchanan in Burnet County and offers 61 rooms with sprawling views of Lake Buchanan’s northern bank. Don’t look for a TV or great internet access here — the resort’s intent for guests is to let go of technology and fast-paced living. Named for the American Bald Eagle who nest here annually, the resort offers many excursions including guided walks, boat cruises, and an amazing observatory staffed by a qualified astronomer who leads evening programs amid abundantly starry skies. Dine at the chef-driven Overlook Restaurant, which serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and catch live music with a cocktail on Saturday nights at the Eagles Nest Lounge. Rates start at $169 per night and vary by season and holidays.

Nature-seekers should keep in mind that Burnet is known as the "Bluebonnet Capital of Texas" and the surrounding areas come alive with color each spring.

Where to eat and drink
Templeton’s Tavern
Located at Container City, this entirely outdoor venue serves local beer and spirits from, fittingly, a shipping container-made bar. There are picnic tables and lots open spaces for seating, along with a small stage for weekend live music and a trailer that serves pizzas made to order from a wood-fired oven. Open Thursday-Sunday.

Blue Bonnet Café
An iconic Marble Falls pit stop since 1929, this classic roadside diner is known statewide (and beyond) for its comfort food favorites, all-day breakfast served, and mile-high pies. Speaking of those pies — which include classics like coconut cream, chocolate cream, and lemon meringue — they’re on “pie happy hour” Monday-Friday from 3-5 pm. Or have a slice for breakfast, as an appetizer, or simply for dessert.

Save the World Brewing Co.
Physicians-turned-beer brewers Dave and Quynh Rathkamp operate this inspiring Marble Falls brewery and taproom, touted as America’s first 100 percent philanthropic production craft brewery. Not only are the mostly Belgian-style brews (it’s what Quynh prefers) delightful on the palate, sales from every pour or bottle purchased go to area charities. Dave had been an avid home brewer and retired from his practice 2012 to “save the world” one beer at a time. A few organizations the couple love include Food for the Hungry, Meals on Wheels, Feed My Starving Children, and Habitat for Humanity. The tap room is open Monday-Saturday, and there’s a kid-friendly lawn with yard games that is popular for families on the weekend.

Bikers and their bikes ride to the top of mountains via a ski lift.

Photo courtesy of Spider Mountain Bike Park
Bikers and their bikes ride to the top of mountains via a ski lift.

100-mile trail system connecting San Antonio to Austin springs to next phase

Happy Trails

The Great Springs Project has released its Trails Plan, another step along the path to a proposed 100-plus-mile network of trails from the Alamo to the Capitol.

The project, launched in 2018, aims to create a corridor of protected lands over the Edwards Aquifer recharge zone that connects its four significant springs: Barton, San Marcos, Comal, and San Antonio. The organization hired Alta Planning + Design to create the master plan, which envisions completion of the trail network by the Texas Bicentennial in 2036. Sections of the trail will be built in phases, based on factors such as funding, landowner negotiation, and design.

The newly released plan includes 16 implementation steps, starting with approval of the planned route and securing funding for operations, securing rights-of-way and permits, and construction for each of five phases.

Funding is an immediate priority and one of the biggest challenges, according to Emma Lindrose-Siegel, Great Springs Project chief development officer. “We have a great team, but land acquisition and trail easements are expensive.”

Another major challenge is the rapid growth all along the corridor and the potential that natural areas could be lost before they can be protected.

“Our goal is to achieve the complete plan by the Texas Bicentennial in 2036 in part for that reason,” Lindrose-Siegel says. “That date is to get everything completed. To get the land, we have five or maybe 10 years.”

The route plugs into a variety of existing and planned trails and projects, some of which are already built and can provide people with a taste of the proposed network. Those include:

In addition to providing access to the outdoors, the Great Springs trail network will help protect Edwards Aquifer recharge zones and connect visitors to the area’s history. The route crosses a variety of natural landscapes and urban settings. An Economic Benefits report released in July 2021 predicted the trail could generate more than $55 million in annual economic, health, and other benefits for the region.

Those interested in supporting the project can sign up for the organization’s quarterly newsletter and follow its social media for surveys and announcements such as community input meetings and volunteer opportunities.

The plan, which took a year-and-a-half to put together, was a huge community effort, Lindrose-Siegel adds, involving a number of partners and community input: “It is just the first step toward implementation. It’s a massive plan and a large-scale project, and it’s going to take all of us to make it happen.”

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Legendary Red Hot Chili Peppers heat up San Antonio with 2023 tour stop

one hot minute

One of alternative rock's most legendary acts is headed to San Antonio on their highly anticipated North American tour next year. Red Hot Chili Peppers will play the Alamodome on Wednesday, May 17, 2023.

Kicking off in Vancouver, British Columbia on March 29, RHCP will also stop in Houston's Minute Maid Park on Thursday, May 25 to close out the North American leg of the tour before heading to Europe. Effortlessly hip modern rock band The Strokes will support the Chili Peppers on both Texas stops, along with talented bassist-vocalist Thundercat.

Tickets go on sale at 10 am Friday, December 9 online. Other supporting acts along the way include Iggy Pop, The Roots, The Mars Volta, St. Vincent, City and Colour, and King Princess.

Touring in support of their two No. 1 studio albums released in 2022, Unlimited Love and Return of the Dream Canteen, the Chili Peppers have played sold-out shows in London, Paris, Los Angeles, and more with notable artists such as A$AP Rocky, Anderson.Paak, Beck, and HAIM.

The first rock band in 17 years to score two No. 1 albums in one year, the band has been red-hot on the Billboard charts and at the MTV Video Music Awards, where they received the Global Icon Award and brought the house down with a performance of the No. 1 single “Black Summer,'' which also won the award for Best Rock Video.

Fronted by the impossibly chiseled and ageless (he's 60!) Anthony Kiedis, the Chili Peppers formed in 1983. Unabashedly proud of their LA roots, the band burst onto the scene with early singles such as "Higher Ground" and "Give It Away," both showcases of bassist Flea's slappin', funk-fueled basslines.

Throughout the peak of alternative music in the '90s, the band saw tragedy, personnel changes at guitar, and reinventions — Kiedes' rap-singing, Flea's bass grooves, and singalong choruses all constants over the decades.

While many '90s alt-rock acts fizzled, the Chili Peppers stayed relevant; the band boasts two anthemic singles with more than 1 billion streams — "Californication" and "Under the Bridge" — and more than 25 million followers on Spotify.

Expect this show to be packed with Gen Xers and new fans for what promises to be one hot minute.

Red Hot Chili Peppers 2023 tour dates:

  • Wednesday, March 29 – Vancouver – BC Place
  • Saturday, April 1 – Las Vegas – Allegiant Stadium
  • Thursday, April 6 – Fargo, North Dakota – FargoDome
  • Saturday, April 8 – Minneapolis – US Bank Stadium
  • Friday, April 14 – Syracuse, New York – JMA Wireless Dome
  • Friday, May 12 – San Diego – Snap Dragon Stadium
  • Sunday, May 14 – Phoenix – State Farm Stadium
  • Wednesday, May 17 – San Antonio – Alamodome
  • Friday, May 19 – Gulf Shores, Alabama – Hangout Music Festival
  • Thursday, May 25 – Houston – Minute Maid Park

Texas-based 3D printing company tapped by NASA to build on the moon

To infinity and beyond

An Austin-based builder of 3D-printed homes, ICON, is making one small step for man and one giant leap for mankind by signing a $57 million contract with NASA to build on the moon.

According to a release from ICON, the Texas company will soon venture into a new frontier of space dimensions. The contract, announced on November 29, was awarded to the company under NASA's Phase III Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program. This program allows ICON to use the $57 million award to build their Olympus system, which adds to previous construction done by both NASA and the Department of Defense for exploration of the moon and beyond.

"ICON’s Olympus system is intended to be a multi-purpose construction system primarily using local lunar and Martian resources as building materials to further the efforts of NASA as well as commercial organizations to establish a sustained lunar presence," the release stated.

The project will work in conjunction with NASA's Artemis program, which launched its first rocket in 50 years on November 15. ICON will work with the program to:

  • Use lunar regolith samples brought back from Apollo missions, in addition to other regolith simulants, to see their mechanical behavior in lunar gravity.
  • Bring advanced hardware and software into space through a lunar gravity simulation flight.
  • Create results to inform future lunar construction approaches for the space community.
  • Establish critical infrastructure necessary for a sustainable lunar economy and habitation.

“The final deliverable of this contract will be humanity’s first construction on another world, and that is going to be a pretty special achievement," said Jason Ballard, ICON co-founder and CEO.

"It's a construction system we call Olympus system that will allow us to use the local materials of the moon to build all the elements of infrastructure necessary for a lunar outpost and ultimately a moon base ... launch and landing pads, roadways, habitats, you name it, all the things on the moon," said Ballard.

He added that they hope to start building on the moon by 2026, starting with a launch and landing pad.

In addition to the grant, ICON was awarded a subcontract in 2021 to support NASA's Space Technology Mission Directorate to create the world's first and only simulated 3D-printed Mars surface habitat. Called Mars Dune Alpha, it is located at NASA's Johnson Space Center and is assisting in long-duration science missions.

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Read the full story and watch the video at KVUE.com.

6 things to know in San Antonio food right now: New beer garden quietly opens

New You Can Eat

Editor's note: We get it. It can be difficult to keep up with the fast pace of San Antonio's restaurant and bar scene. We have you covered with our regular roundup of essential food news.

Openings

The owners of Gold Feather have unofficially untapped a new venture, LadyBird Beer Garden. Although official channels are keeping details mum, a Facebook page run by landlords VLA Real Estate spilled the beans on the November 25 opening. In addition to serving craft beer, the concept at 447 W. Hildebrand Ave has a full kitchen, bar, and a small patio for enjoying the mild December weather.

Months after coyly announcing a second location, Elotitos Corn Bar sprouted a new Government Hill location on December 3. The snack shop is well known for its aguas frescas and elotes flights, offering the street food staple in various flavors. The new outpost is open Monday through Saturday, 3-9 pm.

Following the recent San Antonio expansion of Oregon-based Dutch Bros Coffee, another out-of-towner is gaining some local buzz. According to Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation records, Arkansas franchise 7 Brew Coffee is brewing its first Alamo City location at 4825 Walzem Rd. Barring delays, the project will be completed in May 2023.

Pop-up concept Rose Hip Coffee has found a permanent home at 116 W. Olmos Dr. in Olmos Park. The broadened Rose Hip Market combines caffeine with boutique retail, offering everything from kid's clothes to ready-to-eat sandwiches and salads. The playful equestrian wallpaper might make it a can't-miss selfie spot.

Other news and notes

A new cocktail conference will lift San Antonio's spirits in January. The Culinaria-hosted Third Coast Cocktail Summit will feature seminars, tastings, dinners, and tipsy soirées during its five-day run from January 10-14. All-access passes are now available for $250 for industry and $500 for general admission at the nonprofit's website.

In other booze news, Kinsman's Brandy Alexander Tour is back in full swing for the holiday season. Dorćol Distilling's annual celebration of the famous desert cocktail has drafted 14 spots to offer the renowned desert cocktail this year, including several newcomers like Allora, Bar Loretta, Double Standard, Ladino, and Sojourn Trading Co. A full list of participants can be found here.