After about a year of development, the City of Austin’s Parks and Recreation Department and Seattle landscape architecture firm GGN finally have a master plan for the improvement of the unused 330-acre East Austin parkland named for the city’s first elected Mexican-American City Council member John Treviño Jr. — and this is great news, because the tract at 9501 FM 969 is one of the largest unused pieces of city land in Austin, and it’s a real looker too:
Parks Department development coordinator Charles Mabry and GGN designer David Malda presented the plan earlier this month to members of the Land, Facilities and Programs Committee of the city’s Parks Board, and it’s from their presentation and the master plan document that we get all the info in this article.
A street view of the park’s current entrance on FM 969, which is closed to the public.
The department is set to present the plan to Council later this summer, and there’s a lot of ground to cover here, so let’s take a look at what they’ve got in mind for this criminally underappreciated piece of nature:
The overall master plan is split into two major sections: Prairie, containing fields, a former farm, and a ravine all on the north half of the property nearest to FM 969; and River, the lower half of the land containing a forested floodplain and bounded on the south end by the Colorado River. The plan breaks each of the two major sections down into smaller areas, each with a map of the improvements imagined for that spot.
You can fit a lot into 330 acres without disturbing the natural environment too much, and that’s the goal of the Parks Department based on community feedback — a “light touch,” mostly focused in the first phases on simply getting people inside the park by improving access and trail connectivity throughout, with a special emphasis on access to the river.
A major feature of this plan is a proposed trail connecting all areas of the Prairie section of the park in a one-mile loop, described as representing Treviño’s legacy and providing multi-use access to each region of programming in the park’s upper half. The trail will be wide enough to simultaneously accommodate foot and bike traffic, according to the presentation.
Let’s start by taking a closer look at the areas planned for the Prairie half of the plan:
The “light touch” we mentioned earlier is heavily emphasized in the Field section of the park plan — the Parks Board presentation described trails and a restroom as major priorities, and since this area is closest to the main entrance on FM 969, access is the goal. A wildflower meadow and picnic area adjacent to a multi-use field and other amenities is the centerpiece, seen in the illustration below:
Just slightly southwest of the Field area is what’s called the Ravine, an area of lowlands containing a creek and pond. The presentation describes the topogrphy of this region as “complex,” and to that end this section’s programming focus in the master plan centers around play and exploration — you can see a natural play area and educational “ecology center” in the center of the map above, along with a skate park and bike facility of some kind — more on that later.
The Farm area builds on the character of the existing agricultural buildings on the site — including a barn and water tower — from its former life as ranchland, and the presentation explains that that agricultural history will be respected with educational spaces centered around food and health, including a vegetable garden, as a community resource. There’s also an event space, “appropriately scaled” for “culturally appropriate events” — but not “large-scale” gatherings, something presenters Mabry and Malda described as a big priority for nearby residents to ensure the natural environment doesn’t suffer.
This area takes advantage of the existing house on the bluff at the edge of the Prairie section of the park for a scenic overlook, as the elevation change to the lowlands of the park’s southern “River” section provides great views including some of the downtown skyline. According to the presentation, the old house will be repurposed as a small gathering space for picnics and the like.
Next, we move south to the second half of the park plan, called River — this area is more wild, with the focus on access to the river, trail connections, and land management strategies for the region’s ecology.
“Floodplain Forest” and “River”
The plan’s improvements for these two final areas are consolidated, since there is much less development anticipated in the bottom section of the park due to its more forested environment. The fields in the upper area of this section will be used for wildlife viewing and other outdoor education including agriculture, with the hedgerows of trees dividing the fields being maintained.
Along with trail connections to the rest of the park and the Colorado/Walnut Greenbelt, a major priority here is access, both by road and trail, to the Colorado River at the lower boundary of the parkland — a fishing pier and dock is planned.
You get all that? There are a lot of upgrades shown in this final plan, not as ridiculously overstuffed as what’s imagined for the nearby Walter E. Long Metro Park, but still substantial. Even with everything shown here, the first phase of the plan would simply work to get the park open, building a trailhead and possibly a restroom facility.
Future phases will begin to pursue some of the features we’ve covered in the plan, but the presenters explain funding for some of the grander visions will depend on outside partnerships with other local organizations — the details aren’t currently clear on what that might look like at the moment, but it’s probably a ways off. As we’ve said many times before, the priority here is just getting the gate open and building some enthusiasm for one of East Austin’s most attractive natural spaces, a community amenity for a section of Austin historically underserved in terms of parkland.
Speaking of the community — there is one hiccup. Some nearby residents and relatives of the late John Treviño Jr. are unhappy with the addition of a skate park or BMX facility as shown in the “Ravine” section of the plan, saying this use is unsuitable for the natural environment and other features of the area. Stephanie Treviño, the granddaughter of the park’s namesake, spoke at the meeting urging the Parks Board to honor her father’s legacy by removing these features from the park plan.
In his presentation following these comments, Mabry explained that the potential skate park and BMX uses were the result of lobbying from a group involved with the BMX track at West Ninth Street within the Duncan Neighborhood Park on the west end of downtown. Before the Treviño park master plan was formed, the group originally hoped for what Mabry described as a “huge X-Games type facility” on this unused parkland, but the Parks Department told the group based on community feedback that this use was inappropriate for the environment.
Mabry says the group was understanding, but that nearby residents of the parkland are still interested in these facilities — the person who started the BMX lobbying group, he says, lives near the park — so the Parks Department figured a small facility for these uses mixed in with the active use area already on the master plan was a good compromise, filling a gap he says many young people think Austin’s parks are missing.
Mabry says any facility of this type would be very small — it might take up one or two acres of the park’s 330 acres — but the negative feedback, especially from Treviño’s family, means this possibility is still very much up for discussion and won’t be part of any early phases of development here. For the time being, we think this plan’s got a lot to love — we’ll have to see what Council thinks of the whole thing when the item comes up sometime later this summer.