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Photo by Larry D. Moore
Friday, May 21, 2021 by Sean Saldaña
Ambitious vision plan for Zilker Park seeks community input
Hosting more than 1.3 million visitors a year, Zilker Park is perhaps the most iconic and beloved public space in Austin. Founded in 1917 with a land donation from Andrew Jackson Zilker, Zilker is the city’s oldest metropolitan park. Eighty years later in 1997, the park was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
The park’s popularity, combined with its history, has motivated the development of the Zilker Metropolitan Park Vision Plan, an effort to create a development framework for the park in the future.
The plan is ambitious in its efforts, aiming to address “programming, maintenance, environmental features and ecology, historical preservation and cultural resources, transportation, circulation, and parking, as well as business operations and management.”
At Wednesday’s Environmental Commission meeting, representatives behind the planning effort presented a project timeline, some early findings and environmental considerations thus far.
Claire Hempel, a landscape architect with Design Workshop, the primary consulting firm for the project, noted that while significant progress has been made, the vision plan is still in the process of gathering citizen feedback.
“We officially kicked off in February,” Hempel said. “We are working through our small group discussions right now. We have about 15 of these groups that have focus areas of interest such as connectivity, events, environment, and various neighbor groups.”
It was clear during the meeting that the success of the vision plan will ultimately depend on how well it addresses the needs of a rapidly growing city. To gauge these needs, Design Workshop has launched a survey to get a better idea of Zilker patrons’ demographics.
Although the results aren’t totally representative, the planning team has collected more than 80,000 responses from nearly 3,000 participants since the survey went live. Early results so far show that the majority of park visitors tend to skew female with more than half of survey respondents, 57 percent, identifying as women. Community members are encouraged to fill out the survey, which closes in June.
Conservation planner Jonathan Ogren pointed out that Zilker is home to a number of critical environmental features like wetlands and springs that may require 150-foot buffer zones to protect them. Another factor to consider is the presence of two endangered species located in the area, the Austin blind salamander and the Barton Springs salamander. Zilker is home to more than 262 wildlife species, over 220 of which are birds.
Ogren said some of the big environmental questions that need to be answered are, “What are the things we can do to improve that wildlife habitat through the vision plan, including managing invasive species, managing erosion, creating better plant communities.”
The first of five community meetings is scheduled for June 29, and the project is set to wrap up in spring 2022. Updates on the park plan can be found on the city’s website.
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Key Players & Topics In This Article
Barton Springs Salamander: The Barton Springs Salamander is an endangered, lungless salamander that lives in Barton Springs. It was put on the List of Endangered Species in 1997.
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.
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.