Here's Mud in Your Eye

San Antonio has always had the ability to turn a "sow's ear into a silk purse." The 22nd annual Mud Festival is the perfect example.

Each January the city drains the beautiful expanse of the San Antonio River along the famous River Walk during which the city turns the empty river's muddy bottom into a week long celebration and charity event. Although the event is actually held after the river is refilled, during the weekend-long Mud Festival, an estimated 15,000 participants take part in a variety of ‘muddy’ events. Among the more popular features of the Mud Festival are the Mud Pie Ball and Mud Coronation, the Mud King and Queen contest, the Mud Parade and an arts and crafts show.

The draining will begin on January 3 this year. Traditionally the Parks & Recreation department spends several days collecting water samples, inspecting storm drains and making repairs as well as the monumental task of removing chairs, sunglasses, cell phones, wedding rings, and beer bottles from the muddy river bottom. One year a rusty pistol from the late 1800's was uncovered.

While it is an amazing and romantic place to visit, that wasn't always the case. In it's early history, Spanish Explorers used the waterway to supply water to their missions. Mission San Antonio de Valero, also known as The Alamo, was the first to benefit from it. The river flooded its banks many times. In September 1921 the worst flood in its history killed over fifty people and caused millions of dollars in damage to the city. Consideration was given to paving over it. One man, an architect named Robert H. H. Hugman proposed a plan that would turn the area into a beautiful urban park with apartments, dining, shopping, boat rides and walk ways lit with old-fashioned street lamps. He wanted it to be just as if one were walking in Venice, Italy. After convincing city officials and business leaders of the financial benefits of his plan, the dream became a reality and the
River Walk was eventually sculpted into the masterpiece you see today.

Later, in the 1930's, many efforts were made to clean and beautify the river by groups like the San Antonio Advertising Club, Daughters of the American Revolution San Antonio chapter, and the San Antonio Real Estate Board. Hugman worked many years with the city to construct the plans for the riverwalk, however, despite their best efforts it would be years before the riverwalk could be called a success due to low business volumes and a high level of crime. The 1960's, on the other hand, was a great time for improvement and growth. Paseo Del Rio Association was established in 1969 to promote the continuous improvement and development of the riverwalk.

A main event each year is the Mud Pie Ball where local celebs campaign for the title of Mud King and Queen. Another muddy event is the River walk Mud Parade with the newly crowned king and queen leading the way as their supporters follow behind. A Mud Art Contest and an Arts & Crafts Show also take place on the banks of the drained river. Best of all...all the events are free!

The river refilling will be completed by the 14th and the 2010 Mud Festival is set for January 14-17, with the popular parade and patio party concluding the event being held Sunday, Jan. 17 at Dick’s Last Resort.


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