This fall, people walking or biking the Shoal Creek Trail can whip out their smartphones and listen to local voices talk about the history and culture of the iconic creek and its importance to area residents through the centuries.
And right now, the Shoal Creek Conservancy and Austin Parks and Recreation Department, developers of the self-guided audio tour, are asking people to tell them what topics they want to hear more about and to share their own Shoal Creek stories. Now through June 7, anyone can provide feedback and share what topics they are interested in hearing about on the tour via a Public Input Survey.
“Historically, we have heard a lot of interest from people wanting to learn more about Native American history along the creek, the early European settlers who founded the city of Austin near Shoal Creek, and families that lived there throughout the 20th century,” says Ivey Kaiser, executive director of the conservancy. “We’re hoping we’ll learn more details about some of the stories frequently referenced along the creek and also hear ideas to inform new stories that haven’t been told as much. We’re looking for feedback through the survey from folks who had families living along the creek that may not be included in the history books. The biggest goal is to diversify the voices telling these stories, and input from the community will be critical.”
The plan is for each stop on the tour to include a short informational recording, featuring the voices of members of the Austin community. Kaiser says none of those voices have been confirmed yet, but organizers hope to speak with family members of folks with connections to the creek’s history, including families from the Wood Street settlement and the children and grandchildren of Janet Fish, who was responsible for building and extending the main section of the current trail. The infamous 1981 flood is likely to feature in the tour, as people often asked about it on guided tours.
The Shoal Creek Audio Walking Tour is the first part of an interpretive component included in the larger improvement plan underway along Shoal Creek.
“Community members who helped provide input for the plan told us it was a priority to tell the history of Shoal Creek,” Kaiser says. “As a first step in that process, before we make long-term investments on an interpretive plan for the entire watershed, we wanted to produce something quickly that is free and accessible and allows self-guided tours now when group tours might not be as appealing to everyone. People have asked for self-guided tours in the past, and with current restrictions on in-person group tours, we decided the time had come to create one.”
The conservancy is resuming some group tours and creek workdays, but continues limiting the number of people who can attend each tour to 10.
Developers expect to have the audio tour completed by the fall. It will be available through the conservancy website, which will have audio files and photos and some written history. The organization plans to make the tour available through a third-party app as well.
“That way, folks traveling here form other cities can find the tour on the app even if they aren’t familiar with Shoal Creek,” says Kaiser.
Funding for the audio tour comes from the Heritage Tourism Division of the City of Austin Economic Development Department.