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 is leading a Vision Plan process to establish a framework for the restoration and future development of Zilker Metropolitan Park. The Vision Plan will seek 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.
To help find the right balance for the long-term health of the park, Barton Springs Conservancy has supported the Vision Plan by commissioning the creation of the Zilker Park Natural Resource Inventory & Management Guidelines Report that documents existing ecological and cultural conditions of the park in a 199 page document with over 80 maps and figures, countless photos, and a list of over 600 species observed, including 2 endangered species. Looking at opportunities to improve and sustain the natural areas of Zilker Park as park usage is increasing, the Report was created to ensure the Zilker Park Vision Plan process has the needed information to embed ecological health into the planning process. However, the Report recognizes the challenge of balancing different priorities within Zilker Park. For example, the Report asserts that the highest and best use for the Butler Landfill area from an ecological perspective would be to to extract the waste material or add additional soil to the top of the cap and restore the area to a woodland and/or savanna, but then acknowledges that this recommendation should be taken into consideration when attempting to find a compromise between ecological function and pragmatic use of the park space.
After more than 20 months of public input and extensive community engagement, the design team issued a draft Vision Plan in November, 2022, and is seeking public input and feedback through a series of virtual, “in person” and “pop-up” meetings all across Austin. Based on our initial review, we are generally pleased with that the overall direction of the draft Vision Plan because it does a great job of “greening,” integrating and orienting the park visitor experience, because it does so in a way that advances Barton Springs Conservancy’s values and priorities for the Vision Plan, and because it includes the great majority of our recommendations. In particular, we support and endorse the overall direction of the proposal to create a green Land Bridge that connects the north and south portions across Barton Springs Road; to ecologically enhance over 90 acres of environmentally damaged parkland; to remove surface parking from the Polo Field and Butler Landfill parking areas and other park areas; to improve access within and to the park with an “all of the above” approach for parking, transit, trails, shuttles, and increased bike/ped connections; and to create a Welcome Plaza — all while reducing the amount of impervious cover and rehabilitating Barton Creek with controlled water access and erosion treatments. We also support and endorse the recommendation to create a unified Zilker Park non-profit organization to partner with the City to help implement the Zilker Park Vision Plan, to serve as a single point of contact between PARD and park stakeholders, to advocate for the Vision Plan, and to advocate for public and private funding for park programming, operations, maintenance, and capital improvements.
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.
For the Love of the Springs,
Barton Springs Conservancy, President
“For the Love of the Springs” Campaign Video