This series provides readers the opportunity to learn about the unique insight and experiences of the San Antonio River Authority (River Authority) Board of Directors and their personal connection to the San Antonio River in hopes of inspiring stewardship of area creeks and rivers.
Derek Gaudlitz, Wilson County Board Member
Derek Gaudlitz of Floresville is the owner and CEO of Freedom Mowing LLC. He is a member of the Military Officers Association of America, Floresville Lions Club, Floresville Chamber of Commerce, and the Wilson County Friends of the Library. Additionally, he is Vice Commander of the American Legion Post 38 and President of the Floresville High School Air Force JROTC Booster Club. He served in the U.S. Army for over 20 years upon his retirement in 2014. Gaudlitz received a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering from Texas A&M University.
What experience and skills do you bring to the San Antonio River Authority (River Authority) as a board member?
As a civil engineer, I enjoy creating and building things that will last and that people can enjoy in the future for generations to come. When I was appointed by Governor Greg Abbott to the River Authority board in January 2022, I was in the right place at the right time with the right experience and the desire to serve our community and continue to help and make sure that our water resources are good. Before serving on the River Authority board, I ran for County Commissioner in Wilson County. A large part of what the county commissioner does is oversee road infrastructure. I thought that if I couldn't help the roads, at least I could help the San Antonio River and advocate for what the River Authority is doing for us down in Wilson County.
From left to right: Chairman of the Board Jim Campbell, Board Member Jerry Gonzales, and Board Member Derek Gaudlitz.
What value does the River Authority provide to the community?
The River Authority provides many things to communities in the watershed, including enjoyable public parks and recreation opportunities. In Wilson County, the San Antonio River offers many opportunities for canoeing and kayaking. For example, the SASPAMCO paddling trail winds 29 miles through Wilson County. I was pleasantly surprised to discover the critical ways the River Authority manages and maintains this paddling trail, from flood notification systems to debris removal. The River Authority's flood notification systems can project the impact of storms around our area in the basin. I had seen the alerts but wasn't aware it was a River Authority-led initiative until I joined the board.
Kayakers compete in the second race of the River Authority's Paddling Series on the SASPAMCO Paddling Trail.
After every significant rainstorm and flooding event, River Authority staff clean up the litter and restore the riparian landscape. In addition to that, River Authority staff flies the whole river to ensure there are no downed trees or other debris blocking access. I had no idea about the hard work of maintaining the paddling trails before joining the board, and I find it fascinating. It's been exciting to learn how involved this agency is and how our funds support the community.
How can we ensure the San Antonio River is preserved for future generations?
I think the Don't Let Litter Trash Your River initiative that started this past year is fantastic. It will benefit our communities in the San Antonio River Basin in many ways. It's a great call-back to the Don't Mess with Texas campaigns that I grew up seeing in the '80s that significantly reduced the trash on our roadways. Why wouldn't we want to do the same for our river? A large majority of people don't realize that when you throw your trash away near a small creek upstream, it ends up all the way down the river. We want our rivers to be enjoyable places people want to go to, without litter and other contaminants like E. coli. The River Authority is doing great work to ensure our future generations can enjoy the river. I think it will be even better for them than in the past with all the initiatives going on. It's an exciting chapter in our river's history!
Derek's son Judah fishing at Espada Park and with canine companions at Helton Nature Park.
What is the best way to interact with the San Antonio River?
In Wilson County, there are many ways to get out and enjoy the beauty of nature near the San Antonio River. For example, we have John William Helton-San Antonio River Nature Park. When the COVID-19 Pandemic kicked off, and everything was shut down, my wife and I went out to Helton Park and explored the trails and the excellent campsite area. It was a wonderful place to find joy and relax. Helton Park also has a huge pavilion you can rent out, river access points for paddling, soccer fields, and it will soon have a new boat ramp that the board approved last month. We went out to a fantastic stargazing event at Helton Park a few years back. It was a packed event, and people were parking half a mile away and walking down to the park to get to the event - that's how important it was to the community. Another River Authority-operated park I've enjoyed visiting is River Crossing Park. It's fun to drive over the bridge there when we are getting serious rain because the water comes up almost to the bottom of the bridge. It's incredible to witness the power of the water there.
Derek's son Aaron and his wife Gigi at Helton Nature Park.
Name an interesting fact about the San Antonio River Basin that most people might not know.
Many residents may be surprised to learn that the River Authority maintains 41 dams (28 in Bexar County and 13 in Karnes County). I certainly was! I look forward to visiting these sites and others to understand how they 1) keep areas from flooding and 2) add value to our communities through the safe, clean, and enjoyable mission. Before joining the board, I was only familiar with the Olmos Dam, which protects downtown San Antonio from flooding. I found out the Olmos Dam isn't maintained by the River Authority but rather by the City of San Antonio. However, the River Authority's expertise has been used over the years on multiple occasions to conduct specific engineering projects on the Olmos Dam for the City and Bexar County to strengthen and improve this critically important flood mitigation structure.
How can I contact you or other River Authority board members?
The River Authority website is a fantastic resource. It's easy to navigate, find answers, and ask questions that get prompt responses. Here, you can find your board member and get their help in locating the appropriate River Authority personnel to respond to your inquiries.