Harlingen’s Vestal Park might get first trail as city reviews proposed projects

A bridge spans the Arroyo Colorado Wednesday, April 12, 2023, on the trail expansion between Arroyo Park and Dixieland Park on the Arroyo Hike and Bike Trail in Harlingen. (Denise Cathey/The Brownsville Herald)
Only have a minute? Listen instead
Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

HARLINGEN — Neighborhoods around Vestal Park might be getting their first trail, a 6.2-mile asphalt ribbon tying much of the area together.

After reviewing five trail projects, city commissioners are picking the north-central park for the proposed project as officials apply to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department for a $375,000 grant.

In a meeting, commissioners picked Vestal Park’s trail over projects including the Arroyo Colorado Hike and Bike Trail’s long-planned third phase, which Commissioner Michael Mezmar vowed to “fight,” arguing the 6-foot-wide asphalt strip proposed to run 1.1-miles from McKelvey Park to Hugh Ramsey Nature Park would cut into 22 Parkwood homeowners’ backyards.

Now, Javier Mendez, the city’s parks director, says he’s holding off on the popular trail’s proposed third phase.

During the meeting, Mezmar proposed commissioners pick the Vestal Park trail project for the shot at grant funding.

“Vestal Park has been the orphan stepchild of Harlingen,” he told commissioners during the Jan. 10 meeting. “I’d like to see the money go there.”

During discussion, Mayor Norma Sepulveda noted the city had built trails at the sites of other proposed projects.

“When we’re looking at all the parks that you showed, they already had a trail,” she told Mendez. “But Vestal doesn’t have one, so it makes sense to at least consider the fact that it’s a neighborhood park and it would do a lot for the community.”

Now, officials are planning a $371,839, 9-foot-wide, 6.2-mile asphalt trail running around Vestal Park.

Last July, a group of neighbors called on commissioners to pump grant money into the park they described as long neglected.

In his presentation, Mendez said he was holding off on plans to extend the Hike and Bike Trail into Hugh Ramsey Nature Park.

“There are a lot of trails in there so I think we may get a lot of push-back if we start clearing out some of the trees,” he told commissioners. “So we may look at that one for another day and come up with some sort of master plan for Hugh Ramsey and then, of course, eventually make the connection when we get phase three of the Arroyo Colorado trail extension.”

Amid discussion, City Manager Gabriel Gonzalez requested Mendez meet with Audubon Society members and Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival organizers.

“When we ever decide to do something there, we probably have to have a meeting with the Audubon Society and the Birding Festival group, just because they help in the maintenance of that particular park,” he said.

Last May, commissioners launched a $216,632 engineering study to help determine the proposed 1.1-mile stretch’s route.

Meanwhile, a group of Parkwood homeowners living along the arroyo warned they would consider taking legal action if officials went ahead the project.

In response to the Hike and Bike Trail’s proposed third phase, Mezmar argued the city planned to use the law of imminent domain to “seize” land across 22 backyards running along the arroyo.

“I will fight that vehemently because we would have to seize property from 22 landowners, so I’m against imminent domain,” Mezmar told Mendez.

During his presentation, Mendez also proposed considering applying for the grant to upgrade trails at the City Lake, the Harlingen Sports Complex and the Harlingen Soccer Complex.

At the City Lake, he proposed a $167,708 project aimed at upgrading the nearly one-mile-long trail wrapping around the popular attraction.

“It’s very narrow,” he said. “It needs a lot of work. The lights are antiquated. We’re trying to get those replaced.”

At the Harlingen Sports Complex, Mendez proposed a $425,000 project aimed at building a 9-foot-wide asphalt trail over the park’s eroded granite span.

“What we wanted to do is renovate that trail,” he told commissioners. “The grant would renovate that section or extend it. Depending on how much money we get from Parks and Wildlife, we can do just that section or, of course, extend it all the way around the complex.”

At the Harlingen Soccer Complex, he proposed building a 9-foot-wide, 2.2-mile asphalt span to replace the park’s old granite trail.

“There are a lot of ruts and a lot of erosion,” he said. “We’ve lost a lot of material so we want to go back and renovate this trail as well. We do get a lot of usage out of this one.”