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.

Spider Mountain Bike Park
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.”

Ad Placement 300x100
Ad Placement 300x600

CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Netflix series Waco: American Apocalypse debuts with newly unearthed footage

Documentary News

Netflix has a new series on the tragedy that took place in Waco three decades ago: Called Waco: American Apocalypse, it's a three-part series documenting the standoff between cult leader David Koresh and the federal government that ended in a fiery inferno, televised live, with 76 people dead.

The series debuted on March 22, coinciding with the 30-year anniversary of the event which took place from February 28 to April 19, 1993. There's a trailer here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=scZ2x7R_XXc.

It's an oft-told tale and not the only new release to try and exploit the 30-year anniversary: Jeff Guinn, former books editor at the Fort Worth Star Telegram, just came out with a book in January, also described as definitive, called Waco: David Korsh, the Branch Davidians, and a Legacy of Rage.

Waco: American Apocalypse is directed by another "local": Dallas native Tiller Russell (Night Stalker: The Hunt for a Serial Killer), who obtained never-before-seen videotapes of FBI negotiations, as well as raw news footage and interviews with insiders.

Those insiders include one of David Koresh’s spiritual wives; the last child released from the compound alive; a sniper from the FBI Hostage Rescue Team; the FBI Crisis Negotiation Unit Chief; journalists; and members of the ATF tactical team who watched colleagues die in the shootout against the heavily armed members of the religious sect.

The FBI videotaped inside the hostage negation room, thinking they'd be there maybe 24 hours, not 51 days.

"These are video cassettes that were sitting in somebody’s closet for 30 years, that show the mechanics of hostage negotiations in an intimate setting - not the hostage negotiation scenarios you see in films, but a team of people grinding, day in and day out, for 51 days," Russell says.

He also procured footage from Waco TV station KWTX, who had a reporter embedded in the initial gunfight.

While the standoff was broadcast live on TV at the time, much of it was out of camera range. The film uses 3D graphics to recreate the details of the compound.

Russell acknowledges that the tale of the cult leader who was also a pedophile, the debate over the right to bear arms, the constitutional limits of religious freedom, dredge up painful conversations that continue today.

"It cast a long shadow, pre-saging the Timothy McVeigh bombing in Oklahoma, the shooting at Colombine, and a growing distrust of government, but I think it's important to reckon with our past so we don't repeat mistakes," he says.

"So much of what’s roiling in culture today can be traced to Waco, a story about God and guns in America with all these children at the center whose lives were determined by the adults around them," he says. "There was no playbook for what happened, everyone was out on a limb, and people made mistakes. But almost everybody was trying to do their very best."

"I think this is a story that's often recalled in politicized terms, with finger-pointing on who screwed up and how did we get here, but there's a profound humanity to it all," he says.

7 things to know about San Antonio food right now: Mexican street food joint wraps up after 25 years


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 weekly roundup of essential food news.

Openings and closings

After serving locals for more than 25 years, a Broadway corridor mainstay has wrapped up business. In an Instagram statement, the owners of Beto's Alt-Mex announced that March 19 was the last day of service. Since 1997, the restaurant has offered an eclectic take on Pan-American street food, serving a variety of tacos and empanadas alongside sides like charro beans and Peruvian rice. In the post, the team struck a hopeful note by promising, "this is not a goodbye, but a see ya later."

A Northwest Side eatery only offered finality in its own closing note. Via Facebook, mom-and-pop joint Sarah's Barbacoa said its goodbyes on March 16. Though owner Sarah Hernandez explained the shutter was a tough decision, each member of the family management team decided to focus on emerging career opportunities.

In more playful news, schoolhouse-themed watering hole Home Roomwelcomed its first visitors on March 16. Owned by Marika Olmstead-Wright of Pacific Moon and Marc "Frenchy" Groleau of Charlie Brown's Neighborhood Bar, the watering hole has filled the former home of St. Peter Claver Academy with lawn games and primary colored furnishings. Still to come will be food trucks and a school bus patio bar.

A new project is brewing at 11015 Shaenfield Rd. A concept called Refuge Coffee and Beer has applied for a wine and malt beverage on-premise permit with the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission. According to corporate filings, the project is the work of Austinites. Although similarly named businesses exist in other states, this appears to be an original concept. An online presence seems to be still pending.

Other news and notes

Newish Pearl hot spot Ladino is putting a Mediterranean twist on the wine dinner. On March 27, the eatery will welcome Greek vintner Christos Zafeirakis of Domaine Zafeirakis Winery for a four-course feast paired with a whopping six wines. Tickets are $120 online and are limited to 24 guests.

River Walk restaurant Dorrego's is giving guests a little zazzle with made-to-order paella Monday through Friday, 11 am-2 pm. For $16.95, diners can customize a heaping helping of saffron rice with chicken, shrimp, scallops, sausage, mussels, and vegetables. Reservations can be booked online.

Speaking of paella, chef Johnny Hernandez's annual Paella Challenge will return to Mission County Park on March 26. As always, the shindig will feature more than 40 paellas prepared by some of San Antonio's culinary luminaries. Tickets start at $85 and benefit Hernandez's youth charity Kitchen Campus.

Ridiculously violent John Wick: Chapter 4 hits most of the right marks

Movie Review

The world of John Wick sure has changed a lot from its relatively small beginnings in 2014. Back then, Wick (Keanu Reeves) was just a former hitman out for revenge on the people who killed his dog. Now it’s full-blown franchise with a story that spans continents, necessitating that each subsequent sequel try to out-do the previous film.

John Wick: Chapter 4 is the biggest movie in the series yet, clocking in at just shy of three hours. Stunt coordinator-turned-director Chad Stahelski does his best to fill that massive running time with as much brutality and derring-do as possible. Wick, having long ago run afoul of the powers-that-be that lead the hitman syndicate, The High Table, is still on the lam, with only a few loyal friends willing to help him.

One of the leaders of The High Table, the Marquis (Bill Skarsgård), is on mission to root out Wick once and for all, systemically shutting down versions of The Continental, hotels that serve as safe houses for assassins like Wick. With the Marquis and his henchmen constantly on his tail, Wick has no choice but to do what he does best – take out as many people as he can before they get to him first.

The film, written by Shay Hatten, Michael Finch, and Derek Kolstad, is not quite a non-stop thrill ride, but it’s as close as you can get when you decide to make a film this long. The complexity of the machinations of The High Table makes it almost impossible to keep up with the actual story of the film, but when they get down to the business of fighting, none of that really matters.

There are multiple extended sequences that become an orgy of violence, but the way they’re staged by Stahelski and his team make them eminently engaging. John Wick: Chapter 3 suffered from repetitiveness, and while the same could be said here to a degree, it feels fresher because of the sheer number of combatants and constantly changing scenery.

The fight scenes are magnificently over-the-top, but in this series, that’s to be expected. Where the filmmakers step up this time around is in the cinematography, with bravura shots filling the screen. The camera is almost constantly on the move, swooping in, out, and above the action. One especially memorable sequence even has the camera going above walls to follow the fighting.

While the majority of the story is treated in a deadly serious manner, the filmmakers aren’t afraid to add in some goofy elements. We’ve always had to take Wick’s ability to survive (mostly) unscathed with a huge grain of salt, but this film turns that idea up to 11. At certain points, there’s a kind of a Wile E. Coyote tone to Wick’s escapes, especially a late sequence involving (many) stairs.

There’s not much do the character of John Wick other than his preternatural ability to kill, and Reeves continues to play him perfectly, expressing himself more in gunshots and punches than words. In addition to returning favorites like Ian McShane, Lance Reddick, and Laurence Fishburne, this film sees great supporting turns by Skarsgård, Donnie Yen, and Shamier Anderson.

John Wick: Chapter 4 did not need to be nearly as long as it is, but in this case, the excess is the point. Much of it is ridiculous and ridiculously violent, but it’s also highly entertaining, which is all you can hope for from this type of film.


John Wick: Chapter 4 opens in theaters on March 24.

Keanu Reeves in John Wick: Chapter 4

Photo by Murray Close/Lionsgate

Keanu Reeves in John Wick: Chapter 4.