Outdoors in Austin

3 new improvement projects poised to transform popular Austin trails

3 new improvement projects poised to transform popular Austin trails

Shoal Creek Hike and Bike Trail
Improvements are underway on the Shoal Creek Trail at Third Street. Shoal Creek Conservancy/Facebook

Austinites always have been big fans of our parks, trails, greenbelts, and preserves, and during the pandemic, these places proved even more important to our quality of life than ever. So, it seems fitting that 2021 starts off with news of improvements to the great outdoors around town.

From new bridges to new trail connections, here are three projects currently underway.

Hike-and-bike trail improvements at Longhorn Dam
Design work on the recommended wishbone design for a new pedestrian bridge on the hike-and-bike trail at Longhorn Dam began in fall 2020. The next nearest crossings over Lady Bird Lake lie two miles to the east, near 183, and west at I-35.

The wishbone bridge design facilitates connections between the east end of the Ann and Roy Butler Hike and Bike Trail and Country Club Creek, Eastlink, and Guerrero Park trails. It also creates a public space similar to the west side’s Pfluger Bridge, with spaces to rest, gather, and take in the view. These improvements were included in Proposition B’s $102 million for major capital improvements, and with the proposition’s approval by voters, city staff have begun work on an implementation plan. The timeline for design, bid, contracting and construction of the new bridge is at least five years (ironically, the timeline given when the project first launched three years ago).

In the meantime, construction started in January on interim improvements to provide better separation between cars and people on South Pleasant Valley Road, including while crossing the dam. And none too soon – a citywide analysis of five years of crash data included South Pleasant Valley Road between Cesar Chavez and Oltorf streets as one of 12 roadways with high levels of injury and death. The city is targeting these roadways with engineering design initiatives, improved signage, and targeted enforcement. The Pleasant Valley construction is expected to take six months.

Improvements to Shoal Creek Trail at Third Street
Downtown Austin Alliance and Shoal Creek Conservancy just wrapped up a public comment period on designs to improve the Shoal Creek Trail at Third Street, called the Cypress & Shoal Creek Public Space Strategy. This area serves as a gateway to downtown and lakeside destinations, including the Central Austin Library and the Butler Trail. The improvements aim to make it easier and safer to get here by foot, bike, or bus, and to better navigate to points beyond.

This project is part of the Shoal Creek Trail Plan, a community guided vision for the entire trail that was completed in 2018 with input from more than 100 community groups. The end goal is a seamless, connected pathway along the 11-mile Shoal Creek corridor and connection to other urban trails, which will ultimately become part of the "Big Loop," 30 miles of trails and bikeways looping the city.

Hornsby Bend construction
The Hornsby Bend Bird Observatory at the 1,200-acre Hornsby Bend Biosolids Management Plant is a nationally known birding spot open from dawn to dusk, seven days a week, all year. Since 1959, birders have observed an astonishing number of bird species around its ponds (find a checklist here).

Current construction for the Transfer Pump Station Project affects access to some popular birding sites. New fences around construction of a new pump station at the western end of Pond 2 block the Pond 2 Road, temporarily reducing the length open for walking. For the duration of this construction, the River Trail will be closed to visitors beginning just east of the old pump station. Pond 3 remains accessible from the north, walking from the Platt Lane entrance to the River Trail. Once demolition work is completed, River Trail access to Pond 3 reopens. After project completion, expected by summer of 2022, roads around Pond 2 will reopen for public access.

Currently, all visitors to Hornsby Bend must check in at the main entry gate, follow physical distancing guidelines and wear a mask when interacting with others. In addition to the ponds, the River Trail and Platt Lane Trail are open for hiking and biking.