A LETTER FROM THE PRESIDENT
As anyone visiting Barton Springs knows, Zilker Park is a beloved and special place because its natural environment provides a clean, safe, enjoyable, and welcoming outdoor space for millions of visitors each year, including not only swimmers, hikers, tourists, families, and recreational park users, but also numerous outdoor events that celebrate Austin’s natural spaces in a metropolitan setting located at the intersection of Barton Springs, Barton Creek, Lady Bird Lake, and the Barton Creek Greenbelt. The growing popularity of Zilker Park embodies the tension between the development pressures of our growing city and the environmental fragility of this open space with spring fed swimming hole and salamander habitat, but also presents an “opportunity” to leverage this growth, not only by harnessing revenue from this growth to make park improvements and to protect the natural environment, but also by educating the rapidly growing number of pool and park visitors about the environmental threats to this natural treasure and about the stewardship opportunities for preserving and protecting it for future generations.
To attend to the needs of Zilker Park as well as the growing use of the park visitors, the City of Austin Parks and Recreation Department conducted an extensive, two-year long community engagement process to establish a Vision Plan framework for the restoration and future development of Zilker Metropolitan Park, including over 200 documented and recorded community meetings with community members, nonprofit and city wide organizations, concessionaires, event/festival organizers, and neighborhood associations. Based on community input and feedback, the design consultants prepared a Draft Vision Plan which seeks to balance the competing priorities of protecting the natural environment while allowing use of the park by so many visitors who enjoy this beloved outdoor space. We commend the City and design team for their work in resolving so many different priorities and in creating a plan which was improved by the diverse range of community inputs. And while no single stakeholder will be completely happy with the final plan, the ability to compromise and support the overall outcome is a critical part of this community-driven process.
Barton Springs Conservancy has not taken a position on every detailed aspect of the plan, and we are certainly open to considering and supporting other solutions that arise from final Council adoption and/or through any implementation process. It should also be noted that the Vision Plan has not adopted all of our recommendations. However, we are generally pleased with that the overall direction of the Zilker Park Vision Plan (http://bitly.ws/F4ix) because it does a great job of “greening,” integrating and orienting the park visitor experience. For a detailed statement of our message, please see our BSC Message to Parks Board (May 16, 2023) which provides a summary of the aspects of the plan that we support, along with a listing of some possible improvements that can be made. By way of highlight, we support the following aspects of the Vision Plan:
Increasing the natural areas of Zilker Park by adding 92 acres of new ecological improvements and enhancements and repairs to environmentally damaged parkland;
Creating a Welcome Center through adaptive reuse of the existing Caretaker’s Cottage and Quonset Hut to orient and enhance the environmental education opportunities for park visitors and students;
Removing surface parking from the Polo Field and Butler Landfill parking areas and other park areas that negatively impact water quality in Barton Creek;
Improving water quality by reducing impervious cover by over 14 acres through removal of numerous paved surface parking areas that pollute our waters in the drainage area of Barton Springs Pool and along both sides of Barton Creek;
Rehabilitating Barton Creek with controlled water access and erosion treatments;
Improving access within and to the park with an “all of the above” multi-modal approach for parking, transit, trails, shuttles, and increased bike/pedestrian connections;
Adding new trails and new bike/ped bridges for improved active transportation access at Zilker Park;
Requiring that environmental studies and analysis will be required before proceeding with parking structure project, including environmental study and testing of the area below any buried garage location as well as implementation of protective measures during any construction to protect the underlying aquifer structures from any significant damage to the environment;
Adopting a “phased” approach for adding any buried or green structured parking solutions for centralizing and consolidating existing paved surface parking in a more compact footprint by sequencing the addition of any parking structures to allow for a needs assessment before proceeding with constructing new parking structures; and
Improving the carbon capture performance of Zilker Park.
Please join Barton Springs Conservancy in advocating for our values and priorities which we believe will protect the environment while welcoming visitors from across the city to enjoy all that Zilker Park has to offer by addressing increased usage of Zilker Park while prioritizing the natural environment of the park through education and park improvements that focus on sustainable systems and innovative methods for maintenance and operations. The next review meeting for the Vision Plan will be at City Council. In considering the Vision Plan, we encourage City Council to note the recommendations and support (and associated conditions) from the Pedestrian Advisory Council and Bicycle Advisory Council recommendation, the Urban Transportation Commission recommendation, the Design Commission recommendation, the Environmental Commission recommendation, and the Parks Board recommendation.
For the Love of the Springs,
Barton Springs Conservancy, President
“For the Love of the Springs” Campaign Video