- By Pam LeBlanc American-Statesman Staff
New trailheads, restrooms, playgrounds and a study for a potential pedestrian bridge over Lady Bird Lake east of Interstate 35 top a list of projects the Trail Foundation will announce Friday.
The 15 projects are scheduled for completion in the next five years, said Heidi Anderson (formerly Cohn), executive director of the Trail Foundation, the nonprofit organization created to maintain and enhance the 10-mile Ann and Roy Butler Hike and Bike Trail around the lake.
Since the group’s creation 15 years ago, trail use has grown exponentially. The trail now records an estimated 2.6 million visits every year, according to foundation officials.
“We’re taking advantage of our 15th anniversary to focus on what’s next for the Trail Foundation and how we can build on what we’ve already accomplished,” Anderson said. “We have an ambitious list of projects that we want to tackle.”
Foundation leaders have not released cost estimates for the projects, but they will also announce creation of the Canopy Fund. Donations to the fund will be used to pay for initial phases of each project. Nine of the projects are on the east side of the trail, four on the west, and two along the entirety of the 10-mile trail. Anderson described the list as fluid, and said some projects could be tabled while other opportunities arise, based on community need.
Three of the projects on the list are already underway.
The foundation is working with the Austin Parks and Recreation Department to remove an old, nonoperational restroom at Festival Beach and replace it with a new one, a project expected to cost about $500,000. Restoration work of the slope alongside the Four Seasons Hotel, where stormwater runoff is causing erosion, has begun, in advance of the construction of a 14-foot-wide trail bridge underneath Congress Avenue, which will begin in early 2018. And new trail maps and wayfaring signs are being prepared and will be installed along the trail in coming months.
Some of the projects address shifting usage patterns on the trail. With the closure of the parking area at the north side of the footbridge underneath MoPac Boulevard (Loop 1), more people are expected to access the trail from the south side of the river. To help handle the flow, the foundation will build a new trailhead between the MoPac bridge and Zilker Park. Part of that project will include ecological restoration work in the thick, brushy area adjacent to the trail near the park.
Trail traffic is also expected to increase on the east side of Interstate 35, especially with the opening of the Oracle Corp. campus. Unlike the west side, where trail users can choose from several points to cross the lake, the only crossing on the east side is at Longhorn Dam. Foundation officials will conduct a feasibility study to consider a possible short pedestrian crossing from a thin peninsula on the south side of the lake called Peace Point to the Holly Power Plant on the north. They’ll also study reconfiguring the crossing at Interstate 35 and potential improvements to the crossing at Longhorn Dam.
“(The crossing from Peace Point to Holly) is a connecting opportunity that we hear requests for, and we’re committed to looking at the possibility,” Anderson said. “But those are studies, just to see the feasibility, what the options and opportunities are, and the costs involved.”
The foundation will also examine the section of trail along West Cesar Chavez Street at Lamar Boulevard, where a pedestrian died after he was struck by a car in 2012. A series of orange plastic barricades has lined the road at the spot for more than five years. The foundation will consider rerouting the trail to take it over the water and away from the street.
“It’s not meeting the need, nor are (the barricades) attractive,” Anderson said. “It’s a safety issue.”
Other projects the foundation will announce Friday:
• A new trailhead near the Pleasant Valley Road and South Lakeshore Boulevard intersection, designed to create a gathering space and water access point while protecting the sensitive shoreline habitat.
• Creation of two new gathering spaces on the east side of the boardwalk, off South Lakeshore Boulevard — an overlook platform and a deck beneath a grove of trees near a grassy field.
• A new restroom at the intersection of Pleasant Valley and South Lakeshore Boulevard.
• A put-in point at the water’s edge near Holly Point and Fiesta Gardens, where people can launch kayaks, fish or enjoy the view.
• A new family play space — or two — at an undetermined location on the east side of the trail.
• A safe connection to the EastLink Trail near the Holly Shores Trail realignment, which is expected in 2019.
• Development of a plan to improve the section of trail where it passes under the First Street Bridge, on the north side of the lake. It might include seating, lighting and artwork.
• Tree plantings and installation of shade structures when the trail is realigned around the Holly Power Plant.
• Continued ecological restoration work all along the trail.
“That’s our boots-on-the-ground work every day — removing invasive species, erosion control, putting in new plantings and sustainability of the trail itself. It’s absolutely vital to our work, and we’re trying to double our efforts in that category in the coming year,” Anderson said.
One project that’s not on the official list? The redevelopment of the 3 acres of parkland surrounding the Seaholm water intake building on the north side of the lake. That’s still a focus of the foundation, but leaders are waiting to better understand the city’s needs and how the foundation fits into the plans, Anderson said. They’ll continue to partner with the Parks and Recreation Department and the Austin Parks Foundation on the project.
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