Zilker Park, considered the crown jewel of Austin’s park system, has received an accolade worthy of its regal status: It’s been named one of the 32 best urban parks in America.
In its assessment of the 351-acre Zilker Park, the Cheapism website cites the Austin Nature and Science Center, Barton Springs Pool, Umlauf Sculpture Garden and Museum, Zilker Botanical Garden, and Zilker Hillside Theatre. Aside from those permanent fixtures, the park is known for the ABC Zilker Park Kite Festival, ACL Music Festival, Austin Trail of Lights, Blues on the Green, and Zilker Holiday Tree.
Zilker, referred to as the “Central Park of Texas,” is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. In 1917, local businessman and politician Andrew Zilker donated land for what would become Zilker Park. Each year, well over 1 million people visit the park.
Zilker — which adjoins Lady Bird Lake and appears on the National Register of Historic Places — isn’t the only park in Texas to gain a nod from Cheapism. Sharing the spotlight on the website’s list of top urban parks are Klyde Warren Park in Dallas, and Levy Park and Nieto Park, both in Houston.
Of course, Zilker is no stranger to praise. A poll of experts conducted by USA Today’s 10Best put Zilker at No. 3 among the best city parks in the U.S. Ahead of Zilker on the list were Forest Park in St. Louis (No. 1) and Klyde Warren Park (No. 2).
Although Cheapism and the 10Best experts laud Zilker Park, Austin’s entire park system earns a mediocre ranking — 47th out of the 100 largest U.S. cities — from the Trust for Public Land. The city’s park system scores well for total acreage, but it scores poorly for parking spending per capita, public access, and availability of facilities such as basketball hoops and playgrounds.
Despite the Trust for Public Land’s middle-of-the-road score for Austin’s park system, the group features Austin in a recent release highlighting a rise in volunteer help at city parks around the country.
“The City of Austin had over 20,000 volunteers who donated 55,000 hours of service last year. Volunteers play an essential part in creating community,” says Kimberly McNeely, interim director of Austin’s Parks and Recreation Department.