Shoal Creek Conservancy looks to improve, extend Austin urban trail

Shoal Creek runs from Lady Bird Lake to 38th Street. This section is located at Sixth Street near West Avenue.

Shoal Creek runs from Lady Bird Lake to 38th Street. This section is located at Sixth Street near West Avenue.

Shoal Creek Trail meetings kick off Shoal Creek Conservancy Executive Director Joanna Wolaver at the first of the trail improvement and expansion public meetings.[/caption]

Ted Graf wants his students to be stewards of Shoal Creek.

As the head of the independent Headwaters School near the creek at 8th and Rio Grande streets, he said he's concerned about making sure the water quality and the surrounding fauna is improved for students to play and learn in.

As the employer of more than 70 people, he's also looking forward to giving his employees an alternative, safe way to get to work from other parts of Austin.

Graf joined more than 80 others Wednesday night in voicing his opinion at the first of the Shoal Creek Conservancy's public meetings, aimed at gathering feedback about the improvement and expansion of the Shoal Creek Trail.

"We want to enhance what people love about Shoal Creek," said Joanna Wolaver, executive director of the nonprofit four-year-old conservancy.

The goal, she said, is to enhance the 3.25-mile existing trail—which runs from Lady Bird Lake to 38th Street—and extend it another six miles from 38th Street past US 183 to Northern Walnut Creek Trail.

"It's the beginning of a conversation and we really want your feedback," she said.

Attendees were asked to label what kinds of activities they wanted along the trail—from dog parks and meditation spots to sports and recreation fields—as well as list what short-term and long-term visions they had for the trail.

Shoal Creek Trail meetings kick off Meeting attendees wrote suggestions for what they would like Shoal Creek Trail to look like.[/caption]

Wolaver said the first priority will be improving the existing trail, which is listed as a tier 1, or high-priority trail in the city of Austin's Urban Trails Master Plan.

According to the master plan, the six-foot-wide trail—built in the early 1960s—needs to be widened, accessibility needs to be increased and it needs more amenities such as water fountains.

Both the enhancements to the existing trail and the extended trail need to be urban trails, meaning all users—from runners to cyclists and rollerbladers—can access it; it connects to the city in some way; and it doesn't have motorized vehicles on it.

Lou Kokernak, who runs on the trail occasionally, attended the meeting and said he hopes the expansion will avoid crossing city streets.

He also wants the Shoal Creek Conservancy to focus on opening sections of the new trail one at a time and save the aesthetic improvements for later.

Shoal Creek Trail meetings kick off Lou Kokernak (left) runs on the trail occasionally.[/caption]

"Get people used to [the trail], then find the money for some of the design elements," he said.

Other attendees voiced concerns about flooding, especially with large developments such as The Grove at Shoal Creek slated for the area.

A $900,000 Shoal Creek flood mitigation study is currently looking at possible solutions to flooding along the creek, particularly between 15th Street and Lady Bird Lake.

The city's Watershed Protection department, which is handling the study, estimates there are approximately 75 buildings, both commercial and residential, vulnerable to flooding in the study area.

Shoal Creek was hit particularly hard during the 1981 Memorial Day floods, and again in 2015.

Wolaver said she hopes the conservancy will take on the role of educating trail users about flood mitigation in the future.

Citizens will have two more chances to contribute feedback in person, at the Shoal Creek Conservancy's Sept. 13 and Nov. 15 meetings. More details can be found here.

The Shoal Creek Conservancy is funded entirely by private donations. Wolaver said there is no cost estimate or timeline for implementation of the Shoal Creek Trail improvements and expansion.
Correction: This story has been updated to show Shoal Creek Conservancy plans to extend the trail by six miles, not 10. 


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