Three years and one pandemic after its first appearance in 2019, the long-awaited plan for a new “Trailhead” park providing enhanced access to the Hike-and-Bike Trail on the far south end of the Rainey Street District in downtown Austin is moving forward. The project’s development partners at the Trail Foundation nonprofit and the city’s Parks and Recreation Department expect to seek council approval of the plan this spring, with the approximately one-year construction period currently scheduled to begin at the 1.58-acre tract of city parkland at the southwest corner of East Avenue and Cummings Street by late summer 2022.
We’ve followed this project with extreme interest over the last few years due to its unusual, but surprisingly critical location — the Rainey neighborhood, though increasingly dense with new towers as downtown’s fastest-growing district, hasn’t seen the same expansion of its local park offerings. The presence of the Hike-and-Bike Trail along the edge of the region, ad hoc spaces like the pleasant grounds of the Mexican American Cultural Center, and the Holly Shores parkland on the other side of the highway might distract you from the truth that most of Rainey’s great outdoor life is either found on the backyard patios of its many bars or several stories up on the private amenity levels of residential towers, like 70 Rainey’s stunning “Sky Garden.”
In contrast, the Rainey Street Trailhead will become the neighborhood’s “realest” park once completed, both in the public and programmed sense — the current use of the space as an empty field with an admittedly stunning public restroom will be improved with new trail connections, additional lighting, seating, extensive restoration of the region’s native riparian plant life, a nature-based playground, and a dock providing water access to Lady Bird Lake. Designed by local landscape architecture studio dwg. after extensive community and stakeholder engagement, the plan preserves the site’s heritage trees and enhances the shade cover of the area with several new plantings.
The nature play area was described as a highlight of the design – TTF consulted a group from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center to figure out how to best use various natural elements to spark the imagination of children. The play area was designed in conjunction with the goals of the national Cities Connecting Children to Nature initiative. Austin was one of seven cities nationwide to receive a planning grant from the project in 2016.
“It’s a much more adventurous way of play than some of the traditional play elements,” Blok said at the meeting. “That all comes together into a series of log parts, both larger logs and kind of loose logs that kids can build forts out of. There are small grass mazes where you can hide and get down in the dirt and explore … there’s a sandpit, and a stage to really create your own adventures.”
As we’ve mentioned in previous coverage, the park is partially funded by Intracorp Homes, developers of the 44 East Avenue condo tower directly across the street from the trailhead site, along with the project’s real estate sales team at Urbanspace — all those folks know a fantastic amenity for their future residents when they see one. But another recent donation listed on the Trail Foundation’s site of more than $500,000 from the San Antonio-based “Tejemos Foundation” is a bit more mysterious, and it takes a bit of Googling to figure out it’s the new charitable organization of philanthropist and Whataburger heir Lynne Dobson, who also donated $1 million to the Kingsbury Commons improvements at Pease Park back in 2019 — meaning that once you peer through a few layers of obfuscation, it’s absolutely fair to say that several of Austin’s latest and greatest parks are made possible by burger money.