Walter E. Long Metropolitan Park, located near the eastern edge of the city limits, is the largest park in Austin — and it’s not even close. I mean, just look at this:
But in true Austin form, we’ve been keeping things weird by doing almost nothing to utilize these thousands of acres of land, including the 1,165-acre lake in the middle currently serving as little more than a decent place to fish. As we mentioned in our article a few weeks back, the City of Austin’s Parks and Recreation Department is currently in the public engagement stage of development for a Walter E. Long Metropolitan Park Master Plan, described as a “long-range vision” for the future of the park. So far, so good!
At the second community engagement event for the plan, hosted last week by the parks department, we got our first look at four possible concepts for the configuration of the redeveloped park, with help from planning firm Halff Associates — and the last two might surprise you. Let ‘er rip:
This first concept apparently mirrors the opinions expressed in the first citywide engagement survey conducted by the parks department, creating event areas, a nature center, new water-access points, and wrapping the whole thing in 12 miles of trails, for both human and equestrian uses. This concept takes the lightest touch of the four, with a higher percentage of “natural recreation” usages which would preserve larger pieces of land in their original state without additional development.
Concept 2, which matches the opinions of the people who actually showed up to the first open house for the master plan, ups the percentage of active uses at the park — from 27 percent in Concept 1 to 57 percent here. That means athletic fields, a professional golf course that could include dining and lodging options situated somewhere in the park’s northeastern corner, and “a large arts, culture, and events area between the Expo Center and the lake.”
The golf course idea, though a seemingly contentious topic, is nothing new for the site — but strap in, because these next two plans are where it goes bonkers.
Concept 3A, which unlike the last two plans conspicuously leaves out any explanation of who supports it in its description, would cut off the water supply to the lake and allow it to shrink to a “much smaller size” — leaving it a small body of water ignominiously labeled “Walter E. Long Pond.” This concept doesn’t really bother to explain its own utility beyond some vague notions of reclaimed land, though it does state that the cost of maintaining the lake, which will soon no longer be needed for the cooling of the nearby Decker Creek Power Station as Austin Energy transitions to renewable energy sources, would be “greatly reduced or eliminated.”
Here’s where the other shoe drops. Concept 3B is the logical conclusion of draining the lake — yep, there’s the golf course, situated somewhere on the northeastern corner of the site similar to the placement in Concept 2. The emptying of the lake in Concept 3B, however, would provide the probable golf course site with nearly 100 more acres upon which to build. Still, the description notes that transforming Walter E. Long Lake to Walter E. Long Pond would “eliminate any scenic opportunities for lakeside golf or associated clubhouse/lodging areas.”
A 36-hole Professional Golfers Association (PGA) golf course has been proposed for a portion of Walter E. Long Metropolitan Park. The course would be operated by a private entity, and could compete to host PGA level events.
— Walter E. Long Metropolitan Park Engagement Survey
Sure, it’s not like the lake is natural — the damming of Decker Creek actually forced out residents of the area the lake now occupies, under relatively shady circumstances in some cases — but can we all at least agree that draining it now would be a pretty enormous bummer?
The park’s improvement, as described in the first two concepts, would allow residents of the distant, but rapidly-developing eastern region of Austin around the lake to take more advantage of its amenities and natural beauty than ever before. To rob them of this low-cost recreational asset in favor of a privately-owned golf course — one that will inevitably serve a smaller percentage of the community than a public amenity like a lake ever could — would represent just one more missed opportunity in a long string of failures by the city to adequately rescue this space from decades of neglect.
Of course, Concept 2 demonstrates that we don’t even need to drain the lake at all to fit a golf course somewhere in the park, so why on earth would we ever consider it? The idea certainly boggles my mind, so I’d really prefer if y’all filled out the city’s survey on these four concepts with a few variations of “What the hell is wrong with you?” directed towards Concepts 3A and 3B. But that’s just my opinion, man.