By Willow Higgins
In the summer of 2020, in the heart of the Covid-19 pandemic, Dove Springs community members began to wonder how they could better use a section of the local greenbelt that had become neglected. The unmarked trail, which is overgrown and enclosed by a 10-foot flood wall, was once actively maintained and a go-to river access point for residents in the mood for a stroll or a swim. Last week, project partners presented their proposal for a revamp of a section of the East Williamson Creek Greenbelt–which they’ve named Donde Corre el Agua (Where the Water Runs)–to the Parks and Recreation Board.
The project team has been working tirelessly over the past year to figure out how to transform the space. Dove Springs residents Blanca Ortíz, Elena Rodríguez and Enedina Sánchez, who initiated the project, teamed up with Frances Acuña of Go Austin/Vamos Austin and Bjørn Sletto, a UT architecture professor, and his class to pull together a 100-plus-page book that spells out how the project should be approached.
“The residents and students have been working every single weekend for a little bit more than a year so they could get the language that was needed to be included in this book so we could have a model for how to transform something that looks like (this) into something beautiful and doing it the right way by including the residents and including the neighbors,” Acuña said in her presentation to the parks board.
While some enjoy hiking the trail in its current wild state, steep drop-offs to the creek and eroded riverbanks have prevented neighbors from enjoying it the way they used to. The parcel used to be lined with houses that backed up to the creek, but after the area was hit by a flood, the houses were bought out and removed. Nonetheless, the area has a rich history and holds memories, especially for older residents, that the team worked to honor.
What they have in mind is a beautiful, well-maintained trail with flower gardens, a community garden, rest stops, picnic areas and a play area including swings and volleyball and basketball courts. The trail will also be adorned with murals that tell stories about the community.
“We prioritized culture preservation and conservation, making sure that the culture wasn’t lost in our community,” Acuña said. “We have been losing (our culture) little by little because of gentrification and displacement, but at least in this space, we were able to come together and see what the residents, between the youth and the older adults, highlighted that they wanted to see.”
Now that the community-activated project proposal is complete, the partners will move on to complete the Neighborhood Partnering Program application, which will include an estimate of the budget and zoning and permitting logistics. Then they’ll identify and begin to implement the project’s priorities. If they don’t secure the funding to complete the project in one sweep, they’ll steward their plan over time.
“This means a lot to the neighborhood because we have taken so much of our minds and our souls into this project,” Acuña said. “Dove Springs is an area that has been neglected and all the work the residents took and the students took to make this happen is something that is admirable for it to become a reality.”
Central Texans will be able to walk from Austin to San Antonio and all the communities in between, connecting 50,000 acres over the Edwards Aquifer, before 15 years are up.
The Great Springs Project, with help from Alta Planning + Design, announced plans for the proposed 100-mile trail on Monday, with the goal to complete the massive web of interconnected trails by the Texas Bicentennial in 2036.
The trail will connect four major Edwards Aquifer springs. (Great Springs Project)
The network will connect already-existing trails with proposed trails to fill in the gaps. The trail will likely be built in phases depending on:
- Landowner negotiation
- Establishing right of way
(Great Springs Project)
The goal of the project is to conserve land and local ecosystems running through the Edwards Aquifer as the region bustles with growth, while simultaneously connecting people to nature. The trails will run through Barton Springs, San Marcos Springs, Comal Springs and San Antonio Springs.
GSP says they plan to fund the project through a mix of “local, state, and federal funding with private investment.”
Lower Colorado River Authority general manager Phil Wilson said he expects the project to raise awareness about caring for the region’s vital resources, but also have a “valuable economic impact” through tourism.
Meanwhile, former Mayor of San Antonio Henry Cisneros said the project is “absolutely the best hope for a permanent, unifying, and essential greenspace that demonstrates our respect for our land, our natural resources, our history, our outdoor spirit, and our commitment to the common good.”
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Despite the pandemic, Austinites still make time to pump iron, according to a new WalletHub study. While Austin may not be the fittest of the fit, the city came in at No. 7 for the healthiest cities in the country.
The study measured the 182 cities—150 of the most populated, plus at least two of the most populated cities in each state—across access to health care, healthy food, fitness and green space. Out of 100, a top score of 69.11 was awarded to San Francisco, California, and the lowest score of 23.39 went to Brownsville, Texas.
Sandwiched in between Washington D.C. and Irvine, California, Austin received a score of 59.12, with the top factors being access to healthy food and green space.
Austin's food scene is well-known for being rich and diverse but the cherry on top is the abundance of healthy options. Austin ranked third for the amount of healthy restaurants in town; from popular options like Juiceland, CAVA and Flower Child to more hidden gems like The Steeping Room and Blue Dahlia Bistro, Austin has food to suit all types of special diets.
Austin is also famous for its abundant greenbelts, hiding in plain sight in neighborhoods all across the city. Austin received the fifth placemark for the most running trails in the city and the reason is clear, as Austinites can frequently be seen going for a jog in nature.
Austin's fitness is no coincidence—the city was also named seventh for having the most active lifestyle in a WalletHub study earlier this year.
Even amid a pandemic, Austin has been making fitness a priority, securing a four-way tie for the most fitness centers with virtual classes per capita.
Though Austin fared well in the study, other Texas cities didn't have the same luck. Lubbock, Laredo and Brownsville were all name-dropped for having the least healthy atmosphere.
More on rankings: