Austin’s Lady Bird Lake will bloom with new floating wetlands this spring

Austin's Lady Bird Lake blooms with new floating wetlands this spring

Floating wetlands
The Common Waters project will include the installation of floating wetlands like this on Lady Bird Lake.  Photo courtesy of The Trail Foundation

Designing a garden is a very personal matter. The Trail Foundation, protector and curator of the Ann and Roy Butler Hike-and-Bike Trail at Lady Bird Lake in Austin, wants to be sure to get it right when it plants its next garden. So it’s asking for locals’ help.

The Trail Foundation is seeking Austin artists of all persuasions for a project on Lady Bird Lake, to be installed this spring. Three artists will be chosen (and paid $5,000) for their help designing and installing “floating wetlands” — basically container gardens of marsh plants that surf on top of the water.

These projects are cute on the surface (pun intended), but also healthy for their adoptive habitats. The International Institute for Sustainable Development credits floating wetlands for their usefulness in “bioremediation,” or naturally breaking down pollutants. This is important in areas that collect rain runoff and allow for unwanted deposits of lawn fertilizer, pesticides, and bacteria.

In a typical floating wetlands installation, the plants — floating in deeper areas where they can’t reach the bottom — take in pollution through their roots, sometimes converting that into healthier gasses, or simply storing it in their biomass. (Sunflowers did this job at Chernobyl; it is much easier to dispose of some toxic sunflowers than to manually separate toxins from the ground itself.)

Thankfully, knowing the word “bioremediation” is just a bonus. TTF is leaving the science to the scientists and seeking creatives with experience in areas as diverse and potentially unexpected as spoken word, fashion design, and creative cultural traditions. (Regarding the latter, TTF is pursuing greater equity and a creative group that represents the diversity of Austin, prioritizing applicants “who identify as traditionally non-white.”)

The project, dubbed Common Waters, aims for both form and function, and is part of a larger project called the Arts + Culture on the Trail plan. According to TTF, the plan will “provide a framework on how to support arts and cultural activities that elevate the trail user’s experience while maintaining the trail’s natural environment.”

TTF is receiving support from two sources familiar with environmental art and engaging communities in natural settings: Artist Stacy Levy and curators Public City. Levy works with tides and watersheds so much, she uses them to anchor her mission statement. For a project in 2020, Levy collected more than 1,000 gallons of water from natural resources in Towson, Maryland, and displayed the material in 8,500 recycled jars. Public City is based in Austin and its team has worked in public nature spaces before, including a project connecting the EastLink trail with its human neighbors, encouraging exploration along the trail and storytelling about the history of the community.

The Public City call for Common Waters creatives lays out steps to the completed project, including a workshop with the community and selected creatives on the themes of cultural preservation, environmental activism, and climate change; and offers a creative open studio for designing and testing.

The application deadline for Common Waters is Friday, February 4. Read more about the project and apply at thetrailfoundation.org.