Whether it be a trail that snakes through trees in a park or a walking path along a highway, the presence of hiking paths continues to increase in Leander and Cedar Park communities, and some local groups are seeking to establish more regional trail connections.
Curt Randa, Cedar Park parks and recreation director, said trails can have a huge impact on recreation in a community.
“Not only do they help improve the community’s fitness level by offering opportunities for an active lifestyle, but they also can serve as transportation corridors,” he said. “Residents may be able to walk or bike to the grocery store.”
Leander Parks and Recreation Director Mark Tummons said multiuse trails for pedestrians and bicyclists can help make communities healthier.
“I think one of the biggest goals [of trails] is getting people out, ensuring that they’re healthier as a community and that their kids are healthier,” he said.
The trails also provide opportunities for socialization and help build a sense of community, Tummons said. Officials from Leander, Cedar Park, Round Rock and Georgetown as well as Travis and Williamson counties meet at least once a year to discuss trail projects, he said.
“I think that’s critical in developing the entire system of trails,” Tummons said. “I like the communication and the insight that I’ve gained.”
According to Cedar Park’s 2010 Hike and Bike Trails Master Plan, the city has about 22.1 miles of trails. These include sidewalks along roadways, pathways through parks and off-street trails.
Tummons said Leander has greenways, or urban trails, within some city parks as well as routes along Bagdad Road, US 183, Toll 183A, Crystal Falls Parkway, Ronald Reagan Boulevard and more. While people may view these as wide sidewalks, Tummons said they are designed to be greenways, especially if they are 8 feet or wider and are viewed as an alternate form of transportation.
Cyclist Vince Marotte, a member of the regional biking group Bat City Cycling, called Ronald Reagan the gateway to the country for area road cyclists.
“Thousands of cyclists go up and down Parmer and Ronald Reagan to get out on county roads,” he said. “It’s a way to access roads to Walburg, Granger, all the way out to Marble Falls and Burnet. It’s a good road with a wide shoulder.”
Marotte said the biking group bases its weekend rides in the Cedar Park area. He said the Brushy Creek Regional Trail is a commonly used multiuse trail in Leander and Cedar Park, but recreational bikers tend to seek other trails for exercise or distance. He said the Brushy Creek trail does provide a transportation route for cyclists.
“It’s a great way to get from point A to point B,” he said.
Tummons said feedback from Leander City Council and local citizens is to continue to expand on the trails system.
“One of my goals over the next 10 years is really to create an incredible interlocking system of trails—alternative transportation routes,” he said.
Laying out new trails
Leander is primarily focused on lengthening the Brushy Creek Regional Greenway Trail from Round Rock to Devine Lake Park in Leander.
“You’ll be able to get on the greenway trail in Round Rock and come all the way into Leander, through the [Transit-Oriented Development] area and ultimately to Devine Lake Park,” Tummons said. “There’s eventual plans to go further out west.”
Leander’s portion of the work is planned to extend to the Brushy Creek Greenway at Sarita Valley under Ronald Reagan and eventually to the transit development. Other segments have been completed as a part of the Brushy Creek Greenway at Oak Creek and Benbrook Ranch Park on the northwest side of town.
Elsewhere in the city, a smaller trail would run along Mason Creek. Tummons said the city has been working with subdivision developers at the Trails of Leander and Mason Ranch to construct the path. Tummons said working with developers is a benefit that is not common throughout the country.
“Developers can be reluctant to put in public greenways, public trail spaces. Here, because of parkland dedication, it makes it really nice for them to do that,” he said.
Once the city completes its portion that will connect Old Town Leander to Lakeline Drive near Mason Ranch, Tummons said the public will be able to access about a mile and half of greenway along Mason Creek. The project is anticipated to be complete by early summer 2018.
Several Leander trail plans received bond funding from the May 2016 referendum, including the Brushy Creek Regional Trail and Hero Way Spur, the Mason Creek Trail and the South San Gabriel River Trail, which would extend from Ronald Reagan on the north side of Leander to Georgetown. That project is still in the planning stages.
In Cedar Park, discussion has started on a new trail project, the North Brushy Creek Trail. The city’s Community Development Corp. Board has recommended the project be sent to City Council for council members to review a feasibility study. The study and plan for the trail path would cost $50,000.
The trail would run between the area around Red Horn Coffee House and Brewing Co. to Brushy Creek Road.
Assistant City Manager Sam Roberts told members of the development board that more than half of the land along the potential trail is owned by the city, and he believes the project has good potential. Roberts said the city has had trouble with trails in the past, as neighborhood residents have raised concerns when the trail runs behind their property.
“We’re ready to try again, and this is actually a really good project to try it on, even though there’s going to be some neighborhoods that may not be really happy with it,” Roberts said. “We’ll get that feedback. But there’s large portions of it that are very feasible.”
Cedar Park spokesperson Jennie Huerta said if council members move forward, the next step would be to hire a firm for the feasibility study.
“Any time the City Council moves forward with a major project, community engagement would be a part of that,” she said.
Maintenance and materials
Trails may be maintained by parks staff or private entities, depending on development agreements. If an area is maintained by a private entity, Tummons said parks staff will inspect it periodically to “make sure there’s not any trash or anything like that, that needs to be addressed.”
Randa said the city maintains all trails within the city-owned parks, including the portions of the Williamson County Regional Trail that are within Brushy Creek Lake Park and Brushy Creek Sports Park.
Another role in maintenance is to ensure that dog waste stations, trash receptacles and benches remain in place and are clean.
Trails are made up of different materials. For the most part, Leander trails are concrete, but a portion of the Benbrook Trail in Benbrook Ranch Park is crushed granite. Cedar Park has a similar situation, with crushed granite more likely to be used in parks than on off-street trails or trails along roadways.
Tummons said the city tries to stick to concrete when possible.
“It lends to better accessibility, and it’s less maintenance,” he said. “We want people to bike, roller-skate, inline skate, anything like that, so you’re talking about being connected. We want to make it as accessible as possible.”
Marotte said one challenge faced by cyclists is working with entities to set up infrastructure to make sure trails are safe for bikes, in particular where they cross busy streets. For example, he said the Brushy Creek Regional Trail crosses FM 1431 at the road’s intersection with Toll 183A. Cars turning right may not look to see if a cyclist is crossing the street, even though the cyclist has a green light.
“I’m checking [the road]; I see that the situation is dangerous, even though under the law I’m perfectly legal to cross,” Marotte said.
Part of that challenge includes working to help people understand “that cyclists belong,” he said.
“All the infrastructure in the world isn’t going to change hearts and minds of people driving cars,” he said. “That’s the reality we face any time we throw our leg over the bike.”
Randa said citizens can reach out to the parks department with complaints and are able to attend meetings of the parks and arts board.
Tummons said some of the primary challenges of building trails include funding and finding land, which he said the city’s parkland dedication requirement has helped address. Another challenge is education.
“[We are] working with landowners and helping them understand the benefits to them and to the community as a whole,” he said.
Groups will arise that do not want trails “in their backyards,” Tummons said, but they tend to see the benefits trails have for the community once the city starts constructing the trail.
“Once you get your trail started, people start to ask, ‘When I’m going to get [the trail near me]?’” Tummons said.