Regardless of the season, Austinites love taking advantage of the city's parks, trails, and waterways. The great outdoors is sort of synonymous with freedom, something we all love, but a few rules ensure that everyone has a good time.
According to the City of Austin park rules, there are nine naughty behaviors to avoid when enjoying a park. Note that all park rules are backed by city code, which means you can get a ticket or fine for breaking them. And that’s no picnic.
No motorized vehicles on trails
That means you, scooter rider. Unless specifically designated, park trails are solely for human-powered recreation such as walking, running, pedaling, and stroller pushing. This rule exists to make the trails safer for walkers, families, and kids, says Austin park ranger Adam C. Jones. And remember, cyclists must yield to a runner or walker, and runners must yield to walkers.
No feeding the wildlife
All wildlife in the parks are protected. You cannot “harm, harass, hunt, trap, or remove” an animal from a park, and feeding wild animals qualifies as harm. “Feeding wildlife is harming them,” says Jones. “White bread is not part of a turtle’s diet and isn’t good for them. Feeding also gets animals to rely more on humans for food than foraging.” This rule also supports general Leave No Trace principles. Note that this does not prohibit taking fish from designated fishing areas (sorry, Nemo).
No dogs in nature preserves
Except for service animals, you can’t bring animals into any of the city’s designated wildlife preserves. Preserves also don’t allow bicycles. “These are places we’ve set aside because they have endangered species or rich ecosystems that we want to protect,” Jones says. Plus, many people visit a preserve in order to see wildlife, and dogs and bicycles make that less likely. Related: no dogs off-leash in any parks except in designated areas.
Unless otherwise posted, all portions of the hike-and-bike trails are designated as bicycle speed zones, where bikes may not travel faster than 10 miles per hour. While Jones admits 10 mph is not that fast on a bike, and cyclists may have a hard time knowing how fast they are going, having a speed limit serves as a reminder to slow down and be aware so no one gets hurt. The Austin Parks and Recreation Department is currently studying bicycle speeds on park trails and may issue new rules in the fall. In the meantime, residents can provide feedback on those potential changes here.
No fires, firearms, or fireworks
Weapons and firearms are not allowed in parks except as allowed by state and federal law (meaning those who have appropriate permits may carry the applicable firearm). But park rules prohibit use of any firearm, air gun, paintball gun, pellet or BB gun, bow and arrow, or projectile device. So leave the axe and atlatls at home.
Feel free to fire up the charcoal in grills provided by the parks or your own grill in designated picnic areas, but nowhere else. “Basically, we don’t want someone building a ground fire because they can escape and when it is hot and dry in the summertime, it doesn’t take much of a spark,” Jones explains. “I’m not sure why you’d want to build a fire right now anyway.”
And no kinds of fireworks in a park, period. “Those start fires right and left, and scare off the wildlife,” he adds.
You can be topless anywhere in Austin (sunscreen is advised!), but going bottomless is a no-no, including in parks. If you have a hankering to bare it all, head for Travis County’s Hippie Hollow Park, the only legally recognized clothing-optional public park in Texas. Entry restricted to those 18 years of age and older.
No picking the plants
You’re not allowed to “intentionally injure, thrash, or remove any live plant or fungus, or a portion of a plant or fungus” from a park. This rule ensures that the landscaping remains for everyone to enjoy. It also prevents someone from taking a plant native to Austin to a place where it might be invasive. Anyone can collect pecans and other fruits and nuts in a park, but only from the ground. That rule protects the trees. “People were coming out with ladders and raking the trees, jumping up and down on tree limbs, to get pecans to sell them,” says Jones. He adds that you’re also not allowed to plant anything in a park.
No overly loud noise
To preserve the peace and quiet of nature, park rules require that visitors observe city law governing noise and amplified sound, which limits noise-making devices to no more than 87 decibels. Noise-making devices include your radio or boom box, so enjoy your music at a reasonable level or use earbuds.
No commercial activity
Selling or renting goods or services or setting up a stand or cart in a park requires a city permit or contract, or permitted use of a reserved park facility. That applies to classes or instructional activities for compensation or offered free to promote a paid class or instruction. “It’s just to keep the parks open for people who are out there to enjoy themselves,” Jones says. “Zilker would be wall-to-wall food trucks and workout groups if we didn’t have a permitting process.”