The gap is closed.
Hundreds of people flocked Saturday to the boardwalk on Lady Bird Lake to get their first glimpse of the new 1.4-mile stretch of the Ann and Roy Butler Hike and Bike Trail.
Moments after officials cut the ribbon on the $28.1-million project, the crowd followed the Eastside Panthers drum corps down the walkway, which winds its way from South Lakeshore Boulevard east of Interstate 35 to the American-Statesman property to the west.
To mark the occasion, dancers from Blue Lapis Light donned shimmery teal bodysuits and swung gracefully beneath the I-35 bridge. A fleet of small sailboats bobbed off shore, and runners, bicyclists, walkers and others gaped at the 14-foot wide concrete and galvanized steel structure, which weaves its way on and off the south shore of the lake.
Before the boardwalk opened, trail users were diverted onto bustling East Riverside Drive, where they had to cross over the interstate before returning to the shoreline. Butch Smith and other Parks and Recreation Department employees first envisioned a boardwalk to close that gap nearly 20 years ago. Austin voters approved bonds in 2010 that financed most of the project. The Trail Foundation, a nonprofit group that works to maintain and improve the trail, raised $3 million more from private donors. Construction began in October 2012.
“It feels like a dream come true,” Smith said Saturday.
The trail turns what was the least-used section of the trail into a hot destination. And it offers an easy route from Roy G. Guerrero Metropolitan Park to Zilker Park.
“I think a lot of Austinites are going to discover this part of the trail for the first time,” said Griffin Davis, who headed the Trail Foundation’s capital campaign. “People talk a lot about how Austin is changing, and usually we bemoan that change, but this is a wonderful change for Austin and it benefits everyone.”
Ann Butler, trail namesake and wife of the late Mayor Roy Butler, said she was pleased. “I felt like we started this, so we had to finish it,” she said.
Luci Baines Johnson, daughter of Lady Bird Johnson, who was instrumental in creating the trail in the 1970s, agreed. “Completing the trail was a long-time dream of my mother,” she said. “More than completion of the trail, it’s completion of the circle of Austin. We can now access each other in openness, fitness and beauty.”
Runners already were incorporating the boardwalk into their runs. “It’s absolutely fantastic,” said Mike Yager, president of the Austin Front Runners. “The trail is our gem — knowing that the Trail Foundation and the city are putting this much focus on a place where people can be social and athletic is wonderful.”
Melissa Robledo, 38, said she’s long loved the peace and calm of the east side of the trail, but she is ecstatic about the opening. She hopes it encourages more people — especially Latinos — to get out and exercise.
Now that the boardwalk is finished, the Trail Foundation can focus on other improvements, including the crossing at Pleasant Valley Drive, said Susan Rankin, director of foundation. She said the trail is “where Austinites come to touch and feel and be in the environment.”