For years, I’ve yearned to get inside John Treviño Jr. Metropolitan Park. The request seems simple enough, as far as hopes and dreams go — it’s a roughly 330-acre tract of former ranch land located on FM 969 in Far East Austin on the northern bank of the Colorado River, purchased by the city’s Parks and Recreation Department in 2003 and named for John Treviño Jr., the first Latino member of Austin City Council, in 2006.
But the property is parkland, not a functioning public park, and so this city-owned asset roughly the size of Austin’s anointed Zilker Park has remained closed to the public for 20 years, actually still used for private ranching until 2016. Later that same year, I stood outside the locked gate and took a photo — in fact, it’s such a great photo that the Austin Parks Foundation and Nature Rocks Austin are currently using it on their sites without paying me the standard licensing fee of six Miller High Life tallboys:
But the emergence of a sweeping vision plan for the future of the Treviño parkland, designed by Seattle-based landscape architecture firm GGN and adopted by City Council in 2020, gave us all some hope that the space would open to the public soon. Three years later, we’re finally seeing movement on bringing Austinites inside one of the city’s largest parkland holdings, with the Parks and Recreation Department announcing earlier this month that it has started preliminary design for the first phase of improvements to the park that will, at long last, enable public access.
Like the upgrades recently announced for the nearby Walter E. Long Park, this first phase doesn’t wade into the pricier elements of the vision plan, instead focusing on simply getting the parkland safe for visitors. Since part of the site was fairly recently a working ranch, that involves removing barbed wire:
Park improvements will begin by focusing on preparing the property for the first phase of implementing the Vision Plan. Improvements will include the removal of ranch equipment, barbed wire, dilapidated and unsafe structures, and the securing or reinforcing of any existing structures to remain. The process will also include a safe vehicle entry access, parking area, trailhead with seating and maps, drinking fountain, shade structure, nature trails, a decomposed granite loop trail, and a nature play area.
— Austin Parks and Recreation Department
Although future additions described in the vision plan could include educational facilities, a community vegetable farm, an event pavilion, enhanced river access at the southern end of the site, and a million other nice-to-haves, these more modest first phase improvements like trails are already funded by the city’s 2018 parks bond — meaning we can actually get them done relatively soon, with the city currently planning to begin construction in 2025. Since there is little awareness at the moment that the park even exists behind its locked gate, opening the land to the public is a critical first step towards securing its future stewardship by the city.
The vision plan for the park seeks to advance Treviño’s legacy by envisioning the land as a community resource with access to healthy ecology and recreational opportunities that have been lacking in East Austin. The plan celebrates heritage of the site within the rapidly developing context and employs an adaptive management approach to a number of unique upland prairie and savanna ecologies and large-scale reforestation within the floodplain.
Sure, we’re personally obsessed with getting inside, but what we really care about is getting everyone inside — just like the historically underutilized park space over at Walter E. Long, upgrading this site to serve as an amenity for surrounding residents is ultimately an issue of equity, as increased development turns this region of District 1 into simply “East Austin” rather than “Far East Austin.” We’re happy to wait two more years to get this done, but if it takes any longer we’re hopping the fence.