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Hidden Austin 2012
secret gardens

Thought you knew everything about Austin? Bet you didn't know about these parks or their history

As a parent, it’s easy to get stuck in the same old routine. Central Market playscape, anyone?

Summer gives us a good excuse to explore new parts of the city and discover new parks. For a truly unique Austin experience, I encourage you to check out Eastwoods Park in Hyde Park and Reed Park in Tarrytown. Both tend to be pretty quiet (Shhh! This is between us, right?), offer shade and amenities to escape the dreaded summer heat and give us a glimpse into what Austin used to be.

Reed Park is tucked into a bend of Pecos Drive, deep in the heart of Central Austin. Reed’s six acres would be literally hidden were it not for the sign indicating that there is indeed something back behind the large field that fronts the road. The field has a backstop, although I rarely see anything organized being played on it. The space is perfect for a DIY kite festival (you know, when you’ve given up after seeing Mopac on the day of the Zilker Kite Fest), a seed spitting contest (if you can find a watermelon with seeds) and playing catch (you know, at 7 a.m. in summer or, perhaps even better, after things cool off in November).

One of the reasons Reed is never too crowded is that the parking is alongside the road leading back to the park, so there are only so many cars that can fit. On one side of the road is the field, a creek, a neighborhood pool, a playscape and swingsets. On the other side is the Taylor Lime Kiln, which was recently featured in the occasional Statesman series Austin Untold Stories.

The article explained the origin of the strange white edifice that looks like a huge fireplace where you might leave an offering to ghosts of Austin past. Erected 84 years before the Park was dedicated, the kiln was loaded with juniper trees, which helped melt limestone into lime. The lime was then mixed with sand and other ingredients to make mortar, which served as the building block for many structures in Austin and beyond.

The land for the park was donated by Mrs. Fagan Dickson in 1954 in the hopes that the park might be named for her daughters Roberta and Lucy Reed. According to a paper written by Eleanor Forrest on file at the Austin History Center, Mrs. Dickson had hoped to persuade adjacent landowners to donate plots of land from Casis Elementary to Lake Austin so that children could travel “to and from school safely without crossing any streets.”  Unfortunately, she was unsuccessful in her larger vision, even if her park still stands today.

Where the park road ends is a trail that leads you all the way to Scenic Drive and Lake Austin and the ginormous houses similar to what you see when you peer off the edge of Mount Bonnell. You’ll often notice folks from the neighborhood walking their dogs back on the trail, but we never explored it until recently.

Even on a day with the mercury rising above 100, it was bearable to hike along the shady path which crisscrossed a now dry creekbed several times. My 6-year-old son loved our excursion, remarking several times about how he didn’t realize “there was a jungle in Austin” and that “such a cool path” was down this way. We passed the time by theorizing about past civilizations which might have lived along this creekbed (you know, because we needed some way to avoid thinking about the heat!)

Speaking of shade, there is a good amount of it near the swingsets and the creek. Tadpoles can be found in early summer, and there are plenty of opportunities to observe aquatic life in the creek year round. Near the spot where a stone bridge crosses the creek, picnic tables are clustered next to twisting oaks that just beg to be climbed. There are water fountains at the park, but (and this is a big but) if you don’t visit when the pool is open, the only restrooms are portable toilets.

The pool is an obvious attraction during the summer months. If the pool is fully staffed, your littlest ones can enjoy the fountain-like baby pool, which is similar to the one at Patterson and a really nice way for non-walkers to enjoy the cool water. If the smaller pool is closed, the main pool still gets partial sun during the afternoon and there is plenty of space to sit in the shade if you need a break from the water.

The playscape at Reed is one of the plastic variety you will see around town — in fact, I believe it’s identical to the one at West Austin Park in Clarksville. So it’s really the other amenities that make Reed shine.

Across town is another special space for both children and adults: Eastwoods Park. Located on a quiet neighborhood street in Hyde Park, only minutes away from the hustle and bustle of campus, Eastwoods is another park that offers plenty of options to suit everyone in the family. Towards the street is a shady playscape and swingset with a trail leading to the back of the park.

Bigger than Reed at 9 acres, Eastwoods also has tennis courts, a field, a second smaller playscape, another swingset, a portion of Waller Creek, and the most recent addition: a splash pad. Since parking is scarce in that part of town, the City has recently installed metered parking in front of the park, so unfortunately, you’ll need to pay to park unless you live in the neighborhood or arrive via public transport.

The City of Austin obtained the land for the park in 1929 and opened the playground three years later. In the park’s early days, it was the site of some of the city’s earliest Juneteenth celebrations. The park sits just behind the folklorist, writer and newspaper columnist J. Frank Dobie’s house.

Then, in 1963 Eastwoods served as the venue for the inaugural Eeyore’s Birthday Party, a day dedicated to the donkey made famous in A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh books. According to a 1973 newspaper clipping from the Austin History Center, Lloyd Birdwell, a UT student, started these annual celebrations and even carried the tradition to New York City, where he collaborated with the Cultural Affairs Department to put on a similar festival in the Big Apple.

Even in the early days, party guests enjoyed beer and music. Robbie Marshall, one of the sponsors of the 10th annual shindig, encouraged everyone to wear a costume or just “something strange.” Sound familiar? Although of course the raucous bacchanalia has since moved to Pease Park, a donkey statue now sits at the park to remind visitors of the park’s heyday.

One other interesting feature at Eastwoods is a stump that was carved to resemble a wizard. According to a 1993 Dallas Morning News article, the work was commissioned by David B. Brooks and created by David Kestenbaum, a woodcarver who split his time between Austin and Mexico.

Go to a park and get a history lesson? If you are in Austin and at Reed and Eastwoods, it could very well happen.

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