See how two North Austin neighborhoods are using city grants for park upgrades, beautification projects

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Two North Austin neighborhood groups received city grants in early 2016 for improving Balcones District Park and painting murals along several bridges in Quail Creek.

The city of Austin’s Neighborhood Partnering Program, which provided the two grants, launched in 2014 to provide residents an opportunity to work hand-in-hand with the city on  projects in the city’s right of way.

Residents use city grants for park upgrades, beautification projectsBalcones District Park

The Milwood Neighborhood Association—representing homeowners in the area bounded by Duval Road, Amherst Drive, Parmer Lane and the Union Pacific railroad tracks—received two grants to fund the installation of a shade structure near the Balcones pool and add a pavilion that will hold about six picnic tables. The NPP provided about $150,000, and the Austin Parks Foundation provided $50,000, MNA President Meg Davis said.

“We knew our park hadn’t seen any updates in quite a while,” she said. “Residents were really excited to possibly see some improvements.”

The shade structure will be installed in December, but the pavilion will not be added until a new playground is installed, likely in late 2017. After securing the grant, Davis said other park needs arose, including replacing the playground, part of which is closed because of a broken slide and insufficient padding under the swings.

“It didn’t make sense necessarily to make costly improvements if the playground was already failing and past its use of life,” she said. “We met with Council Member [Leslie] Pool and the city, and they agreed it needed to be pushed to the top.”

The Austin Parks and Recreation Department agreed to replace the playground, estimated at $300,000, after residents provided feedback, Davis said.

MNA is also working with residents in the Walnut Crossing, Angus Valley, Gracywoods and Northwoods neighborhoods to gather feedback on other improvements park users would like to see at Balcones in the long term, such as tennis courts.

Landscape designer Kristy Street, Kim Gilbertson of According to Nature Landscape Design and Neal Charles of Neal Charles Landscape Design have volunteered to create a long-term plan for the park.

“We’re still gathering feedback before deciding where it would make sense to put the various elements,” Charles said at an Aug. 16 neighborhood meeting.

Lifelong resident Noelle Peschka said she grew up going to the park and her three children enjoy using it. She said she would support locating the new playground near the southern end of the park and could see the pavilion being used for neighborhood gatherings.

“That’s what I love about our neighborhood: It’s a hidden gem,” she said. “I love the trails and the creek hidden back there.”

However, the trails, which end near a waterfall, have been deteriorating for the past several years, Davis said, and MNA will apply for another NPP grant to improve them. These trails could connect to the Northern Walnut Creek Trail the city will finish in 2017 that runs from Balcones to the Walnut Creek Metropolitan Park.

“[Balcones is] a really well-loved, well-used park,” Davis said. “It’s rare not to see any group out there. We’re excited to start seeing improvements made to it.”

More information is available at www.balconespark.org.

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Quail Creek painted bridges

In an effort to beautify their neighborhood, residents in the North Austin Civic Association—an area bounded by US 183, Metric Boulevard, Kramer Lane and Lamar Boulevard—wanted to create murals along several bridges in the area.

NACA was also awarded about $150,000 by the NPP for the murals and improvements to a traffic island at Quail Valley Road and Rutland Drive. The grant will also fund a sidewalk near Lanier High School.

“Students end up walking in the street, and I’ve seen near-accidents,” resident Caro Dubois said.

Dubois said NACA identified about 14 bridges in the Quail Creek area that were riddled with graffiti and weeds for the murals. Since February more than 200 people have donated time to create the murals, many of which are located along routes children take to school.

Residents were grouped into teams to design a mural and take on maintenance by pulling weeds and keeping grass trimmed. Murals feature handprints of neighborhood children, showcase the area’s diverse culture and support the Lanier Vikings.

Resident Susie Milam said she hopes the murals will encourage residents to take better care of the neighborhood and solve the area’s litter problem.

“We need something like this to be a role model for people to behave better,” she said. “[These murals] make it all worthwhile.”

The traffic island project will begin after the new fiscal year starts Oct. 1, and that project will involve adding native plants and grasses, resident Linda Davis said.

“Kids would see that their neighborhood cares,” she said.

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Amy Denney
Amy has been reporting in community journalism since 2007. She worked in the Chicago suburbs for three years before migrating south and joined Community Impact Newspaper in September 2010. Amy has been editor of the Northwest Austin publication since August 2012 and she is also the transportation beat reporter for the Austin area.
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