Taking Nourishment From Nature
Spotlight on Austin’s Crown Jewel: The Ann and Roy Butler Hike-and-Bike Trail
BY GRETCHEN GOSWITZ
PHOTO BY JARED TENNANT
Wrapped around the city’s core and neatly woven between the lush greenery of parkland and calm waters of the Colorado River is Austin’s most popular pathway, the Ann and Roy Butler Hike-and-Bike Trail on Lady Bird Lake. Austin residents and tourists come together on this iconic 10-mile stretch, as dogs, baby strollers, bikes, and running shoes pace along at different speeds and for varying distances. For some, it’s a training ground, and for others, it’s a church., We’re indisputably fortunate to have this free and spectacular access to nature; for that reason alone, it’s imperative we do our part to nurture this sacred space.
Much like Austin, the Butler Hike-and-Bike Trail is ever-evolving. In 2016, an economic impact study was conducted that counted more than 2.6 million visits to the trail per year: As the city grows, so does the number of trail visitors. And yet, it may come as a surprise that when public funding is tight, parks (and the walkways embedded in them) are one of the first things to take a hit.
However, Austin has a strong buffer to lean on, thanks to the work of The Trail Foundation, a nonprofit group whose sole mission is “to protect, enhance, and connect the Ann and Roy Butler Hike-and-Bike Trail at Lady Bird Lake for the benefit of all.” Last year, the City of Austin contributed roughly $550,000 to the trail itself, while The Trail Foundation put in about $3,000,000. Granted, Austin’s Parks and Recreation Department is responsible for the care of all parks and trails citywide—not just this one.
“Their budget just can’t fully meet the needs that the trail requires for it to be protected, enhanced, and sustainable. We raise private dollars to help bridge the gap,” Trail Foundation Executive Director Heidi Anderson says. “We facilitate a lot of ecological restoration,” she adds.
“All the infrastructure projects, like restrooms and bridges—that’s us.” The Trail Foundation’s largest project to date was the completion of the boardwalk five years ago. It closed the gap, transforming the Butler Hike-and-Bike Trail from an out-and-back route to a full loop. Pretty impressive, considering The Trail Foundation is only 15 years old and originated with four volunteers and a tip jar. (The donations at that time were used to remove poison ivy.)
“We feel like this is an important element to the health of the people who live in the city; having a special place where they can convene in the outdoors,” Anderson says. She would know: Anderson and her now husband married at Lou Neff Point back in 2017. This isn’t unusual, though. It seems most trail-goers have a heartfelt connection to the space, and that’s why they keep coming back.
Park Ranger Program Manager LeAnn Ishcomer believes the Butler Hike-and-Bike Trail is a true foundation for Austin residents. “It serves as a hub of our community, a place that brings people together. Mountain biking, jogging with pets, personal training, paddle boarding on the lake, having a picnic. I think that defines Austin, Texas, life.”
Ishcomer is one of 20 park rangers, who juggle a multitude of responsibilities, including connecting people to the trail and keeping the space sustainable. You don’t need to be a park ranger, however, to do your part. Ishcomer’s primary advice to residents? “Recognize your own impact on the parkland. Picking up your trash, keeping pets on leash, and picking up after your pets can support our goal to have a healthy, clean, livable city.”
There’s a necessary trifecta to keeping the Butler Hike-and-Bike Trail optimized for long-term enjoyment: The city, nonprofit support, and, most importantly, we as residents have a responsibility to care for the place that cares so much for us. It’s a synergistic effort but well worth it for this 10-mile sanctuary.
Park Ranger Programs
Everyone from kids to canines can do their part to benefit our beloved trail. These are just a handful of offerings from the Austin officials:
What better way to keep this dog-friendly city clean than to lead by example? The certification program covers outdoor safety for pets, methods to support the “Leave No Trace” campaign, and how you and your pet can become park stewards.
Coffee with Rangers
Think of it as an in-person “Ask Me Anything.” Sit down with a park ranger to learn more about how you can make a difference.
Observational Art Program
Get a first-hand lesson from a ranger on observing and creating art journals, while employing Leave No Trace principles.
Reading with Rangers
In this literacy program, park rangers read a nature-themed book to kids. It’s a great way to instill a lifelong appreciation for conservancy starting at a young age.
Upcoming Projects by The Trail Foundation
More ways to enjoy the amenities that line the Butler Hike-and-Bike Trail:
Drake Bridge Commons
Very few know it as the Drake Bridge; most know it as the South First Street bridge that passes over the lake. Underneath that bridge, on the north end of the trail—directly across from City Hall, there’s a 30-foot-wide area. It’s soon to be a gathering point for community, where folks can come together and hang out around art, music, and concessions, as they are going to or from City Hall.
An ecological project—to be completed by the end of this year—will save a group of very large old trees at risk of falling because of excess erosion. The Trail Foundation’s renovations will keep passersby safe and will be completed by the end of 2019.
The City of Austin has developed a master plan to improve and update the eastside Holly neighborhood. As a means of support, The Trail Foundation plans to gift the city a larger, beautifully designed restroom facility in this area to replace the old, existing one. Opening in early 2020.
Further developing the Festival Beach area, The Trail Foundation is working to bring an enhanced water access point to the eastside community. As the adjacent Holly Power Plant is being decommissioned, the foundation intends to do a trail realignment that will bring it closer to the water’s edge.
Contribute to trail cleanup while getting your steps in. This global phenomenon has capitalized on the influence of social media, encouraging people to pick up and then post about it.
You may start noticing signs around the Butler Hike-and-Bike Trail with a few pointers on trail etiquette. The most pressing issue is keeping electric scooters off the pathway. The city is currently working with scooter companies to use geofencing technology that will deactivate them on the trail, but until then, keep off.