Why does a city park need its own nonprofit?

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Phil Hardberger Park Conservancy is a 501(c)3 nonprofit that supports Phil Hardberger Park. Which begs the question – why does a city park need its own nonprofit?  Bottom line – the city can only do so much. 

The park sits on land that for decades was home to a working dairy farm. After the death of the farm’s owners, the property seemed destined to be swallowed by surrounding suburban developments. In stepped then- Mayor Phil Hardberger who, seizing the opportunity to save a large portion of historically important land and century-old trees, urged the city to purchase part of the property that had been the Voelcker dairy farm. In 2007, an overwhelming majority of San Antonians rallied around the idea and voted for a bond issue to purchase more of the farm and dedicate it as parkland for future generations.  The new city council named the land Phil Hardberger Park in 2009 after Hardberger had left office.


Additional bond money was used to create the park that we have today, and the city of San Antonio continues to provide the operating funds for the park. But according to the Master Plan that embodies the community’s vision for the park, the park is only 60% complete. With so many parks to fund and manage, the city has at least temporarily done all it is going to do. The job of finishing Phil Hardberger Park relies on the people more than ever. The Phil Hardberger Park Conservancy is the instrument through which people can contribute.  

The people of San Antonio have from the beginning been instrumental in building the park. Eagle Scouts built benches on the trails and much of the equipment in the dog parks. NuStar employees and a dedicated group of volunteers known as the Wednesday Weed Warriors have worked alongside the park staff to restore the savanna. Members of the AGC Construction Leadership Forum raised funds and contributed their time and expertise to rehabilitate the old dairy barn. The folks at ECC are regular volunteers on Earth Day, not to mention many individuals who contribute time throughout the year.  

Along with park staff, volunteers are responsible for many of the education programs in the park.  The Alamo Area Master Naturalists plan and staff monthly nature programs and nature walks.  They now call the PHP Urban Ecology Center home and offer their certification training in its Gathering Hall.  

With all of this time and energy contributed by everyday folks, it still doesn’t occur to most park visitors – about 1,000 per day – that they can make a difference in the park. They can.

On May 3, their donations to the PHP Conservancy, big and small, can help fund the construction of the Wetland Restoration Area, education programs in the park, and the most ambitious project – the construction of a wildlife-crossing land bridge. The bridge would connect the Blanco and NW Military sides of the park, allowing people and animals to safely cross back and forth. Only a few land bridges exist in North America and none service both animals and people. A land bridge in Phil Hardberger Park would definitely be a landmark for the city. 

“People obviously love the park,” says Phil Hardberger, PHP Conservancy President, “and it takes money to build. It isn’t free.”