Shoal Creek runs 11 miles through the core of Austin, from near State Highway 183 to Lady Bird Lake. And Shoal Creek Trail, the city’s oldest hike-and-bike trail, meanders alongside it for much of that distance.
The trail has multiple access points and a variety of experiences, from almost spooky wooded stretches to wide open meadows, picnic areas, historical markers, and springs. To help acquaint locals to this city jewel, Shoal Creek Conservancy offers regular guided tours.
“We have done tours regularly throughout the organization’s lifetime, for a variety of reasons,” says conservancy executive director Ivey Kaiser. “We want people to have an opportunity to enjoy Shoal Creek in a safe environment, with a guide to tell them where to park, how to access different features and so forth.”
The organization offers at least one guided tour every month, all free and open to everyone. Each has a different focus, covering a variety of topics from plant identification to birding, history, geology, and culture. "We try to keep tours to 30 or fewer people, so everyone can hear and ask questions," Kaiser says.
All tours are open to everyone, although she notes that some topics are of more interest to adults than children.
On the history tour, for example, participants learn that Shoal Creek marked the city’s western boundary in 1839, and that until 1896, the area west of it was Comanche territory. They'll also hear how formerly enslaved people founded the Wood Street Historic Settlement along the creek after the end of the Civil War and that the West 6th Street Bridge (also called the Sixth Street Bridge) over Shoal Creek was built by hand in 1887 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Different guides each have their own expertise, Kaiser points out, with some focusing on more recent history and others looking farther back.
Travis Audubon Society members lead birding tours through the creek’s woodland, riparian, and open meadow habitats, identifying resident birds such as Carolina Chickadees, Summer Tanagers, woodpeckers, hawks, and herons. Swallows nest under the 24th Street bridge. Tour leaders help participants spot and hear birds and even bring loaner binoculars. Post-tour tallies of the species found can easily top 30, Kaiser says.
Geological tours led by members of the Austin Geological Society discuss the terrain along the creek and look for fossils — just one of the unique features of Shoal Creek.
New for 2020, urban stargazing tours are led by members of the Travis Astronomical Society, who bring telescopes for gazing at celestial sights.
You can find tour dates and register on the conservancy’s calendar of events.
“We want to spread awareness of access points to the trail and create an inviting and welcoming atmosphere,” says Kaiser. “We want people to know they can join us on a tour or just pop over on a Saturday. Everyone can use this trail.”