Among Austin’s many cherished waterways, Williamson Creek doesn’t find quite the spotlight it deserves in South Austin — Barton and Bouldin Creeks are the stars south of the river, while Shoal and Waller Creeks get the glory downtown.
Running from west to east south of Highway 290 in a region growing nearly as fast as the rest of the city but with much less attention, Williamson Creek takes a meandering path for nearly 19 miles between its headwaters in Oak Hill all the way to McKinney Falls State Park east of I-35, where it empties into Onion Creek. You can take a nice seven-minute hike through the creek’s greenbelt in the video below:
The waterway’s rich riparian ecology often takes a backseat, however, to its habit of inflicting severe flooding damage to the homes lining its greenbelt, to the point that the City of Austin approved a 2014 voluntary buyout program in partnership with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to purchase dozens of homes in the most flood-prone regions near the creek. Williamson Creek’s central stretch between Menchaca Road and Congress Avenue now contains 17 acres of former residential property in the floodplain owned by the city, joining a whopping 58 acres of undeveloped public parkland along the creek’s banks — and besides its utility for flood mitigation efforts, it sure seems like we could do something to improve that land for people.
Enter the Central Williamson Creek Greenway, a planning effort imagining a future for this public land as a natural resource and outdoor recreation opportunity for South Austinites. A community-led collaboration between the City of Austin, planning firm Asakura Robinson, local advocacy organization Community Powered Workshop, and national environmental group the Nature Conservancy, this first step of creating a vision for the parkland’s future with public engagement from surrounding residents is funded by a grant from the St. David’s Foundation’s Healthy Parks Program.
The current draft plan for the initiative is a pretty lengthy document, but it describes its four major goals for improving this public land as such:
1. A RESTORED, BIODIVERSE GREENWAY
The future Central Williamson Creek Greenway will be a healthy, functioning riparian ecosystem, rich with plant and animal life and free from ecologically destructive invasive species. Volunteer and city ecological restoration efforts, green infrastructure installations, and low-impact trails will preserve the creek’s wild character, protect sensitive species, and improve water quality.
2. A COMMUNITY-CENTERED GREENWAY
The future Central Williamson Creek Greenway will be a system of trails, parks, community gardens, and other gathering spaces where neighbors and South Austin residents gather to socialize and exercise. Community-built art, urban agriculture, restoration and other projects along the greenway will create a sense of ownership and pride.
3. AN ACCESSIBLE AND VISIBLE GREENWAY
The future Central Williamson Creek Greenway will provide a continuous trail from S. Congress Avenue to Menchaca Road through key land acquisition and low-impact trail construction. Visitors to the greenway will be able to orient themselves through clear wayfinding signage, and learn more about the unique history, ecology, and geology of the creek through educational signage.
4. AN ACTIVE AND CONNECTED GREENWAY
The future Central Williamson Creek Greenway will be an important public health amenity for the neighborhood and the broader Austin community. It will provide a key east-west connection to South Austin neighborhood resources and public transportation. The trail system will connect all communities to the creek and provide accessible creek experiences for those of all abilities. Mountain biking trails, fitness programming, and community gardens along the trail network will further enhance neighborhood health.
— Central Williamson Creek Greenway Draft Vision Plan
South Austin beneath Highway 290 currently enjoys far fewer well-kept public parks compared with the central city, and the greenway would address this inequality while also providing a unique pedestrian pathway between South Congress Avenue and Menchaca Road — the same type of connection we’re trying to create along Waller and Shoal Creeks, but a more unexpected amenity for this end of Austin.
Since we’re talking about a roughly two-mile stretch of public land here, the improvements in this plan are similar to the Waterloo Greenway and Shoal Creek Conservancy visions — not exactly a continuous developed park, but rather a string of small parklet-style spaces, community gardens, and other amenities linked by a single, well-marked trail. As noted in the goals of the initiative above, keeping these improvements low-impact and increasing the native biodiversity of the creek’s ecosystem is a major priority as the project continues through the planning stage.
The greenway folks are currently seeking public feedback on the draft vision plan, with comments open until February 22 — so please click here to provide the organization with your thoughts. Though the project’s in an early stage of imagination, its backers are hoping for significant community support as the initiative advances to the point of seeking grants and municipal backing for its realization. The chance for public amenities of this magnitude don’t come along nearly as often in 78745 as they do around downtown, so we’re obviously beyond ready to see this plan move forward.