SAN ANTONIO - It is an oasis of green in a densely populated part of north San Antonio.
Frequent park user Don Losole said "Before it was McAllister Park it was North East Preserve. It was set aside for wildlife habitat, to be left as is and for the people of the City of San Antonio to come and experience true nature in its rawest form and enjoy that, and that's really what the park was all about."
Losole and others in the Friends of McAllister Park organization have launched a petition drive to stop a proposal to turn 68 wild acres into ball fields with $2.2 million dollars of city bond money.
Group President Laura Matthews said, "Friends of McAllister Park is very concerned that our city government wants to use public land for a private entity."
Matthews said while there are natural surface bicycle trails in the area, most of the acreage is preserved as habitat that is enjoyed by thousands of park users and a wide variety of wildlife.
"The trail system runs on the perimeter. The entire center section is wildlife habitat and it has been undisturbed for at least fifty years," Matthews said.
Matthews said being able to enjoy nature is important in an urban setting.
"It's habitat 24/7 for our wildlife and then anyone can use these trails that are in here. Get out. See nature. Get away from the urban society that we have," Matthews said.
Matthews said "Once the ballfield goes in, that entire 60-acres will be bulldozed. There will be nothing left."
Park supporters point out the park already has ball fields.
The McAllister Park Little League group maintains a large complex for baseball and softball, but the lease to that group provides that the area is locked up and inaccessible when league play is not underway.
"This is a multi-use facility, how it's supposed to be. And now they want to take our land and make it single purpose, private use only," Losole said.
Losole's petition gathered more than 2,000 signatures in less than 24 hours and he said his goal is to reach out to 10,000 supporters.
Losole has vowed to keep fighting, saying "We're not going to go quietly and let our land go away. This was a nature preserve when it was started and that's how it was supposed to be."
"Yes. There may be 400 or 500 kids that play for Capitol Little League but there are literally thousands and thousands of people that come to this park to use these trails," Losole said.
Losole said last Saturday his group sponsored an event at the park they called "Take a Kid Mountain Biking."
"We led city kids that had never been on trails. They were elated. They thought it was the coolest thing they've ever done, is get out on the trails," Losole said.
Losole said one little girl said her biggest wish was to see a deer on the trail.
"Ten minutes later we were riding along and a big buck came running right across our trail. We stopped. He stopped. That made her whole year right there. She was so happy," Losole said.
District 10 City Council Representative Mike Gallagher said he is encouraged that so many people are energized and participating in the bond process.
"Without question, this is a very tough issue for us. One of the things I'm pleased about what's come out of it is we're hearing from the public on a bond project. I think that's so important that we actually have the voices heard of the people that are involved in whatever the project is," Gallagher said.
Gallagher said he is approaching the controversy with an open mind.
Gallagher said "We'll be listening to citizens for the next three months to adjust the bond projects. If we need to look for new land for a project or something like that, this gives us the time to do that."
"We have to keep our minds open on big projects like this. We want to make sure we preserve our parks and at the same time we've got to make sure that we've got areas for our kids to go ahead and play baseball when they need to do it," Gallagher said.
Gallagher said his advice to constituents: "Keep telling us what your position is. We need to hear your voices. It's so important. It really is."
The group fighting to build the fields - Capitol Park Little League - will be rallying at their current ballpark next Tuesday night at 6 pm. The address of the facility is 11793 Bulverde Road.
Spokesman Rob Foster said more than 500 families depend on the group to provide a safe place to play and their current facilities are worn out and need to be replaced.
Visit the city's website to view upcoming bond committee meetings where you can express your opinion.
(© 2016 KENS)