Fifty years since the development of the Ann and Roy Butler Hike and Bike Trail first kicked off in Austin, the trail has become one of the city's top natural attractions and will soon have its final gap closed for a continuous loop around Lady Bird Lake.

On Dec. 10, city officials, representatives of The Trail Foundation nonprofit, and family members of both former Mayor Roy Butler and Claudia "Lady Bird" Johnson—two of the project's original sponsors—celebrated the 50th anniversary of the first tree plantings on the recreational path. Since Johnson watched over the placement of a handful of crepe myrtle trees near South First Street in December 1971, the hike and bike trail has seen decades of additions and improvements to its 10-mile run around Lady Bird Lake that now draws more than 4.5 million visitors annually, according to the trail nonprofit.

"Over the past 50 years, the hike and bike trail has become a beloved amenity for our community to exercise, immerse themselves in nature and stay connected to many areas of the city. Simply put, Austin would not be Austin without this incredible asset," District 9 Council Member Kathie Tovo said in a statement. "It’s an honor to celebrate this exciting milestone alongside the many community leaders, volunteers and organizations who work tirelessly to expand and maintain the trail."

The trail was part of the city's long-term planning for the land around what is now called Lady Bird Lake. (Courtesy The Trail Foundation)

After that first tree planting decades ago, tens of thousands of dollars were raised to "beautify" the trail, which officially opened to Austinites in 1972. More recently, the trail's south shore boardwalk opened in 2014, and The Trail Foundation now expects further improvements such as a new Rainey Street trailhead and an exercise area at Butler Shores to be realized in the coming years. Additionally, the trail's 50th year in operation will feature multiple events from the foundation including Trail In Bloom: A Spring Celebration of the Butler Trail, Maudie’s Moonlight Margarita 5K Fun Run & Party and the Twilight on the Trail fundraiser.

“As stewards of the trail for more than 18 years, we are incredibly excited to celebrate this milestone. Above all, we are grateful to Lady Bird Johnson, Ann and Roy Butler, and the many community leaders who came before us to help make this day possible,” The Trail Foundation CEO Heidi Anderson said in a statement. “Together, we can ensure the trail remains one of Austin’s favorite outdoor havens. We look forward to celebrating this anniversary throughout 2022 and to the next 50 years.”

City officials, The Trail Foundation representatives, and family members of former Mayor Roy Butler and Claudia 'Lady Bird' Johnson marked the trail's 50th anniversary Dec. 10. (Courtesy The Trail Foundation)

Trail management, completion

The anniversary comes weeks after City Council voted to hand over management of the hike and bike trail to The Trail Foundation. After an extended debate over the details of the foundation's maintenance and operations agreement, council voted unanimously in favor of giving the nonprofit oversight of the lakefront parkway. The shift will see the foundation take on maintenance and natural and recreational community programming along the trail into the future.

Earlier this month, officials and community members also gathered on the trail's eastern edge for a separate event recognizing a project that will close the trail's last remaining gap. A Dec. 4 ceremony near Austin Energy's Holly substation site, located south of Holly and Pedernales streets, signified the launch of the project that will see the hike and bike trail extended with a new concrete path along the lakeshore beside the power plant.

The trail is routed around the plant and into the Holly neighborhood. Council approved the six-month, $2.1 million connection project in late September to remove portions of the Austin Energy facility and "close the Ann and Roy Butler trail gap and provide a continuous trail around Lady Bird Lake," according to city documents.

City officials and community members gathered near Austin Energy's Holly substation to mark the upcoming completion of the hike and bike trail around Lady Bird Lake. (Courtesy Austin Parks and Recreation Department)