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Environmental Commission recommends vision plan for John Treviño Jr. park

Tuesday, August 11, 2020 by Jessi Devenyns

A 330-acre former ranch east of U.S. Highway 183 has been waiting for the city to introduce park amenities since 2003. On Aug. 5, the city-owned parcel took one step closer to becoming a nature-focused, master-planned metropolitan park named in honor of Austin’s first Latino City Council member, John Treviño Jr.

At its August meeting, the Environmental Commission voted unanimously to recommend adopting the vision plan proposed by the city’s Parks and Recreation Department for John Treviño Jr. Metropolitan Park.

In the vision plan, Charles Mabry with the parks department told commissioners that the department primarily focused on incorporating the values expressed by the community. Citizen feedback, he said, clearly directed the plan to feature trails and nature access in lieu of heavily built-out amenities and venue space. During the city’s yearlong public engagement process, staffers discovered that the community primarily sought community advancement, accentuation of the site’s heritage and an engagement of both the Blackland Prairie and Colorado River ecologies running through the land.

“The master planning process for us was really about building relationships with this place,” David Malda, with the landscape architecture firm GGN that is consulting on the project, told commissioners.

The full development of the ranchland into a metropolitan park will not take place overnight. Mabry told commissioners that the parks department has $1.5 million left from the 2018 bond for parks, and “that’s only an amount to make the site safe for people.” Implementing elements of safety includes a parking lot, an improved entrance, a handful of nature trails and a few amenities like a restroom. He expects the planning and design phase to begin in 2021 if Council approves the vision plan for the park.

While the vision plan does not go into significant detail, the high-level outline divides the park into six sections focusing on different aspects of the landscape and pairing them with complementary activities. In the field section, play fields and pavilions will be the focus of the improvements due to the flat topography and the proximity to the park entrance.

Farther down by the ravine section, the mixed topography and tree canopy will be used for nature play and environmental education at an ecology center. While the plan contains no comprehensive descriptions of the ecology center as yet, the parks department has looked at the Phil Hardberger Park Urban Ecology Center in San Antonio as a source to inform the design of the center in this new park.

Currently, the ranchland retains the original barn and homestead. While the house will be replaced, the barn will be preserved and repurposed for events. Community events hosted at the site will be capped at 2,500 people and nearby neighborhoods are not interested in seeing events that scale to the size of festivals like Austin City Limits. The community’s desire to keep the events manageable, he said, was something the parks department heard “loud and clear.”

The vision plan also contains a one-mile Community Walk that is intended to serve as a meditative loop to “unite many of the park’s primary spaces” and to honor Council Member Treviño’s legacy.

Commissioners commended the plan for its incorporation of community input and its stewardship of the environment. “I really appreciate the light touch, and you really listened to the community,” Commissioner Katie Coyne said.

Along with their recommendation, the commission requested that the parks department return periodically before the commission as the city develops portions of the park.

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