If you’ve seen the way the wind’s blowing regarding the construction of very tall buildings and accepted that downtown Austin’s western boundary is no longer actually West Avenue, but rather North Lamar Boulevard, you might also begin to accept that Duncan Neighborhood Park is possibly the downtown region’s most overlooked green space. With Shoal Creek running along its western edge and a view of the downtown skyline that only gets better with age, it’s hard to believe this place doesn’t get more traffic — when was the last time you were over there?
Named Duncan Park in 1975 after Austinite Frances Nalle donated funds for its development from the estate of her first husband A. Baker Duncan, the tract was originally purchased by the City of Austin all the way back in 1930 and left unimproved for decades.
Well, its north half, anyway — the southern section of the park below West Ninth Street, which splits the tract from east to west, is better known as the Ninth Street BMX park, a community-run BMX jumping and trail riding cooperative accomplished with minimal city involvement, which is how the BMX people like it. But there’s not nearly as much going on north of Ninth Street, a 3.75-acre plot of open lawn with some sidewalks, picnic tables, and a grove of heritage live oaks in its northeast corner.
The City of Austin’s Parks and Recreation Department has kicked around plans for upgrading the northern space’s amenities since at least 2010, with various studies and engagement events taking place between 2014 and 2017 to hammer out what might polish the place up a bit, especially considering the improvements planned for the adjacent Shoal Creek Trail. This summer, despite some significant distractions we’ve finally reached the implementation stage, with a plan for the park now seeking community feedback until August 16 — also known as this Sunday, so hurry up.
The implementation plan seen above gives a pretty solid overview of what we’re expecting to see at an upgraded Duncan Park, with the focal point of the improvements being its large central lawn, appropriately sized for group activities like fitness classes or even small events. Along with new connections to the Shoal Creek Trail, ADA-compliant entry plazas on opposite ends of the park at West Ninth and Tenth Streets will provide hardscape improvements like bike racks, water fountains, and new picnic tables. There’s also a “wetland” on the east end of the tract, with a boardwalk offering visitors a pleasant path over it — here’s what that’s all about:
An alternate entrance on 9th street utilizes the proposed boardwalk that will extend over the wetland. The current wetland collects water from two ephemeral seeps as well as stormwater from the park and adjacent office buildings offsite. The wetland naturally holds and filters the water of pollutants before it travels through the soil to the creek. The wetland will be regraded and planted to improve ecological function and wildlife habitat. A bat house will be installed in the wetland to contribute to wildlife habitat, keep local insect populations in check, and provide educational experiences to park visitors.
— Duncan Park Implementation Plan
Seating in the form of limestone blocks will be installed terrace-style on the hillside at the northeast corner of the park where you’ll find all those wonderful ancient live oaks — providing seating for what PARD calls “future functions,” which we hope won’t have to be of the socially distant variety. The plan replaces invasive plants with native species, including the planting of new trees and two wildflower plots. Despite our well-documented public restroom obsession and the current lack of these facilities at the park, this stage of the plan sadly doesn’t include a restroom:
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.
— Duncan Park Implementation Plan
If all goes according to plan — not that anything really did this year — PARD says construction is expected to kick off here in 2021. Wouldn’t you like to say you had something to do with it? Better fill that survey out then, hotshot.