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Groups call for almost $5 million in additional funds for Austin parks

Wednesday, August 28, 2013 by Elizabeth Pagano

Drawing momentum from a jogger injured by a falling tree on the Butler Hike and Bike Trail this past weekend, those pushing for more money in the Parks and Recreation Department budget rallied Tuesday morning.


A group calling themselves Great Austin Parks spoke on the City Hall steps, reiterating a call to increase the PARD budget by $4.75 million for badly-needed maintenance for the city’s parks. The group has been making the push for more funding since earlier this summer.


Their point was driven home this weekend, when a dead tree fell on to the trail around Lady Bird Lake, breaking an unlucky jogger’s leg and injuring his ribs and back in the process.


The cause for more parks funding has united several groups who are concerned about ongoing maintenance deficits in what seems to be every facet of the Parks Department’s purview. Though the original crisis was identified as  trail maintenance and tree care, those worried about deteriorating conditions in city pools, aging playgrounds, abandoned flowerbeds and the like have joined in, with several speaking at the news conference.


Austin Parks Foundation Executive Director Colin Wallis kicked off the proceedings with a note that Austin is in the bottom third of major American cities in terms of what it spends on park maintenance. He explained that cuts following the 2009 downturn have never been restored, as Austin’s population and park system continues to grow.


These concerns were echoed by PODER’s Susana Almanza, who focused on the dearth of programming in municipal pools.


“Austin needs swimming programming year-round, and it needs to be established throughout the city,” said Almanza. “We need to make sure that our neighborhood pools and parks remain free.”


Almanza touched on a growing concern in the community that an ongoing public process to evaluate the city’s pools may result in closing free, neighborhood pools.


“The recreation facilities are basic services that are paid for with our tax dollars,” said Almanza “Lets increase funding for our neighborhood parks. All children and families, regardless of their race and income should be able to use the pools and parks freely.”


Ofelia Zapata spoke about the distressing state of her neighborhood’s city parks and playgrounds. Zapata is a member of Austin Interfaith and a resident of Dove Springs. She called the parks in her community “one of the undeveloped assets” that they were working on improving, noting the area has the highest youth obesity and juvenile crime rate in the city. 


“In some of our parks you see rotting playgrounds, no benches, no water fountains, dirty pool, dirty bathrooms, cracked tennis courts and un-level soccer fields, and no lights,” said Zapata. “My mission is to be able to walk to the parks, hear children laughing, playing and running around, hearing parents and residents…just enjoying the park.”


As part of the conference, Great Austin Parks distributed information that 52 percent of all children’s playgrounds in the city’s parks have reached the end of their useful life, with no funding available for their replacement.


Austin Eco Network’s Brandi Clark Burton broke down what the $4.75 million would go towards if included in this budget cycle, as requested.


Burton said that $1.5 million would go towards forestry operations, $1 million towards aquatics, $1.25 million toward trail maintenance and $1 million for basic park maintenance,


“We are being penny wise and pound foolish. By not taking care of small repairs we are ending up with demolition by neglect,” said Burton.


In addition to the speakers, Great Austin Parks has the support of many of Austin’s neighborhood associations, AIA Austin, the Austin Parks Foundation, the Downtown Austin Alliance, Keep Austin Beautiful, Sierra Club Austin, Shoal Creek Conservancy, South Austin Democrats, Tejano Democrats, the Trail Foundation, TreeFolks and the Young Austin Democrats, among others.


The Council will hold another hearing on the city budget this Thursday.

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