Thursday, January 22, 2015 by Tyler Whitson

City plans to repair cyclo-cross damage at Zilker

City staff has revealed a one-year plan that they hope will remediate tree and turf damage related to a national cyclo-cross championship held in Zilker Park earlier this month.

Watershed Protection Department Environmental Officer Chuck Lesniak told the Environmental Board Wednesday that Parks and Recreation Department staff and City Arborist Michael Embesi have “a pretty robust restoration plan in place to address any damage to root zones and trees.”

The plan comes in the wake of the 2015 USA Cycling Cyclo-cross National Championships, which officially took place in Zilker Park Jan. 6 – 10 and 12. Cyclo-cross is a competitive sport that involves cyclists racing on various types of terrain that include mud and other obstacles.

Lesniak told the Austin Monitor that he does not know for certain if the event caused any irreversible damage. However, he said that Embesi, who was not present at the meeting, “seemed pretty confident that any damage is going to be able to be addressed.”

Parks and Recreation Forester Regina Ramos asserted, in a draft of the plan, that the event affected 57 public trees in Zilker Park. “The route for the bicycle race was laid out in such a manner that cyclists crossed into and compacted areas within the critical root zones of trees,” she wrote.

Though the race was originally set to conclude on Sunday, Jan. 11, Parks and Recreation staff first canceled, then rescheduled the final events to the following Monday due to concerns that the racing, coupled with heavier-than-expected rainfall, would damage tree roots.

The city faced heat from cyclists and fans for its handling of the situation and from the Austin Heritage Tree Foundation for scheduling the event in Zilker Park in the first place, according to the Austin Chronicle.

City policy define a heritage tree as being at least 24 inches or more in diameter and belonging to one of several species listed in city code.

Executive Director of Austin Heritage Tree Foundation Michael Fossum said during a citizen communication that his organization believes that the damage “was done on day one and wasn’t contingent on the rain.”

After showing the board several photographs of cyclists riding on bare roots, a promotional video of an individual driving a car on the cycling track and other activities that he said were harmful to the trees, Fossum asked that the city “please make sure that this damage is repaired properly.”

Board Chair Mary Gay Maxwell, after seeing the video, said that “it’s kind of hard to take it seriously, but it actually happened.” She concluded by proposing that the board’s Urban Growth Policy Committee convene a special meeting to discuss ways to move forward. There were no objections from any of the board members.

Lesniak said that the plan had been developed with the cyclo-cross organization. A letter written by USA Cycling Vice President of National Events Micah Rice on January 15 explained that USA Cycling has budgeted money for the repair process.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

City of Austin Environmental Commission: An advisory board to members of the Austin City Council. Its purview includes "all projects and programs which affect the quality of life for the citizens of Austin." In many cases, this includes development projects.

City of Austin Heritage Tree Ordinance: The city ordinance that prohibits the unlicensed destruction of trees greater than 19 inches in diameter.

City of Austin Parks and Recreation Department: The city department responsible for the city's park system, rec centers, and associated infrastructure.

Watershed Protection Department: The city's Watershed Protection Department works to reduce the impact of floods, erosion and water pollution in the city. The department is mostly funded by the city's drainage fee.

Zilker Park: Austin's largest downtown park, Zilker Park is comprised of 350 acres donated by Andrew Jackson Zilker in 1917. It contains the Zilker Botanical Gardens, Umlauf Sculpture Garden and adjoins Barton Springs Pool.

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