After more than a decade of thoughts on the subject, the City of Austin’s Parks and Recreation Department is kicking off improvements to Duncan Neighborhood Park on West Ninth Street at the far western end of the downtown area, with the park closed to the public for construction as of this week.
looks like the duncan park renovation is finally breaking ground after 7 yrs of planning – the march 2024 completion date is good timing to serve residents at The Shoal & future residents at Shoal Cycle and other planned residential buildings nearby
— marshall geyer (@marshallgeyer) May 15, 2023
If “Duncan Park” doesn’t immediately ring a bell to you, you’re confirming our suspicions that it might be downtown Austin’s most underrated green space, an approximately 3.75-acre piece of quiet open lawn on Shoal Creek with heritage live oaks, a few picnic tables, and little else besides fantastic skyline views. There’s nothing wrong with tranquility, of course, and the city’s planned upgrades for the space are mostly about improving access to the site and its connections with the adjacent Shoal Creek Trail, along with stewardship of the site’s native plants and trees.
(At the moment, the real excitement in this area takes place south of Ninth Street on an adjacent piece of parkland that’s technically also part of Duncan Park, but is better known as the Ninth Street BMX Park, a bike jumping and trail riding spot operating as a nonprofit cooperative with pretty much no city involvement whatsoever. The PARD plan for fixing up Duncan Park concerns only the northern tract, and shouldn’t violate the existing BMX park’s extremely cool DIY ethos as far as we can tell.)
The entry on 9th Street will be moved to align directly with the entry to the bike area across the street, providing safer pedestrian access. The entry on 10th Street will include a water fountain and both entries will feature bike racks, waste and recycling receptacles, and places to gather or rest, including picnic tables, seat walls, and benches. A set of limestone blocks will be set into the grassy slope in the northeast corner to provide views of the park and large seating for any future functions. Two wildflower meadows will separate the lawn from the creek trail while also providing a pollinator habitat and seasonally changing visual interest.
One aspect of the parkland that currently flies under the radar is that its eastern end contains a wetland, fed by two “ephemeral seeps” of groundwater and providing a natural filter for stormwater and area runoff from nearby buildings before it returns to the adjacent creek. The planned improvements include a boardwalk-style trail over this wetland habitat, along with seating and a bat house to help control the local insect population. Here’s what that wetland looks like these days:
Along with the boardwalk, the real showcase improvement on deck here is the addition of seating via limestone blocks near the site’s existing heritage oak grove, which overlooks the park’s main lawn — good for any future event programming, sure, but also situated perfectly to watch our growing skyline. Although it’s not planned for this first phase of improvements, we’re still holding out for a restroom at some point:
A restroom is not proposed at this time, however, space for it to be built in the future is set aside on land that is out of the floodplain and out of the critical root zones of the heritage trees. The heritage trees on-site, including ancient live oaks, will be preserved and highlighted with the design. Invasive plants will be removed and replaced with plants that would historically have been part of the Blackland Prairie, particularly a riparian edge or ephemeral wetland. The sidewalks leading up to the entrance will be widened and planted with street trees to provide shade to pedestrians. Other shade and ornamental trees will be planted throughout the site to provide views, visual interest, and wildlife habitat, and contribute to the overall landscape of the park.
The park is now on schedule for a grand re-opening in March 2024 — and if everything goes according to plan, a number of new residential buildings currently announced throughout the neighborhood will soon bring this downtown gem a larger audience.