The opening date for a future Williamson County park planned between Leander and Liberty Hill has been delayed due to surveying until 2018, but the state-level park will now receive more facilities.
The first phase of River Ranch County Park, which is proposed to cover 1,011 acres of land, was originally expected to open in July 2017. Randy Bell, Williamson County Parks and Recreation senior director, said Phase 1 is now expected to open in spring or summer 2018.
“We remain extremely excited about this project and know that the public is going to love it,” he said. “We’re not alarmed by the delays because we want to get this right.”
Phase 1 of the park will cost about $8 million and include about 320 acres. The county would fund the construction of an equestrian center, more than 100,000 feet of trails, an entrance, a day-use facility, camping utilities and grounds, internal infrastructure, a park residence and a maintenance facility.
The county is working with Austin-based Design Workshop to design the master plan for the park. Steven Spears, a partner with Design Workshop, said the plan would place many of the park amenities in the southern portion of the land, leaving the northern portion to be more natural for trails and to take advantage of the landscape and scenery.
“One of the most dynamic things about the park is just the massive size and scale that it is,” Spears said. “Nobody can deny that that part of Williamson County continues to grow with more suburban development.”
Bell said the county wants to make sure the large-scale project is safe for public use while preserving the natural aspects that make the land unique.
“We want to build facilities in the environment, not just bulldoze a line from point A to point B,” he said. “We want to work with the terrain and the geological aspects. You try to make it so things don’t stick out, so to speak.”
Spears said in 15 years, the park could be seen as an oasis of nature.
“The most amazing thing is that the county has the foresight to go purchase this land to ensure that nature is still part of Williamson County as we continue to grow,” he said.
The county purchased the property in 2008 with $10 million in bond funds approved by voters in 2006. County officials planned to fund the project with the $40 million in park bond funds approved by voters in 2013.
Bell said the county received a grant in March from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission to add an interpretive center to the park. The $750,000 matching grant will result in $1.5 million available for an interpretive outdoor education center, which Bell said will enhance the county’s goal of turning River Ranch into a state park-like experience.
“We can have buildings to help support that, classrooms, office space,” Bell said. “It would be similar to a center you might see at a national or state park or nature center. It’s outdoor education to help people learn more about the park.”
According to the proposal, the developments would include a 3,100-square-foot building with a classroom, exhibit space and displays; interpretive signs; an outdoor classroom with a fireplace on the porch; meeting space; a reference library; an office; and restrooms.
Bell said the development has seen delays in several places, though topographical, tree and environmental surveys are mostly complete. The county has been waiting to conduct a study on the golden cheeked warbler, an endangered bird species, which Bell said should take this place in April.
The county changed the location of the entrance, which was originally proposed to be off of CR 282 in Liberty Hill.
“There’s challenges turning in and out, especially with the sight line. There’s bends in the roadway,” he said. “When you have people puling trailers, you need turn lanes, acceleration and deceleration lanes.”
Instead, Bell said the county worked with a neighboring landowner and gained property on the east side of the park, off Bagdad Road, to construct the entrance.
Bell said the current goal is to have construction documents for the park completed and ready for advertising in September, and the construction schedule for Phase 1 could last about eight to nine months.