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Want free entry to Barton Springs? Take the bus.

Monday, June 28, 2021 by Seth Smalley

The Zilker Park road loop will be closed from July 6-30 pending construction of new tracks for the fully electric Zilker Eagle, the train formerly known as the Zilker Zephyr. Following slope failure at the previous turnaround (due to erosion from rain), the new turnaround will be located at Lou Neff Point, where Barton Creek meets Lady Bird Lake.

Photo by Austin Parks Foundation.

During the closure, Barton Springs is offering complimentary entry to the pool, paid for by Austin Parks Foundation, for those who can prove they took the bus to the park. (Both physical and digital ride receipts suffice.)

While the tracks are the chief renovation, the Austin Parks Foundation intends to undertake several other improvements, including to the train tunnel, railbed and the depot. The gravel under the tracks will be removed and replaced and a new drainage system will be installed.

“Lou Neff Road and all associated parking will be closed down to realign the road, accommodate ADA improvements, perform asphalt maintenance, and make electrical service modifications,” according to a statement from Austin Parks and Recreation.

APF is asking visitors to Zilker Park to use public transit, ride bikes or walk, since parking capacity will be limited for most of the month of July. The foundation encourages visitors to use Capital Metro.

While the train tunnel improvements – including to drainage and lighting – are being funded by Kendra Scott, Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority is funding other renovations.

“Thanks to the generous support of Cap Metro, restoration and maintenance of the existing train depot building and surrounding site will address current accessibility issues, as well as lighting, landscaping and functionality in the depot area, so that the train and operations are accessible, comfortable and welcoming to all,” the parks department statement reads.

The train’s new name – Zilker Eagle – was decided earlier this year in a contest with nearly 700 submissions. Approximately 7,000 people voted. The name is the original name of the park train that started its rounds in 1961. In 1996, the Zilker Eagle took its final lap around the tracks and was renamed the Zilker Zephyr in 1997, following the results of a similar contest.

In 2020, Austin City Council asked APF to oversee restoration and operation of the Zilker Eagle.

The city’s Parks and Recreation Department “will take this opportunity of the road closure to resurface the roadway and the three parking lots that surround the Zilker Great Lawn. The road resurfacing will include ADA improvements and new curb ramps,” said Liana Kallivoka, Assistant Director with parks and recreation. “Austin Parks Foundation will operate the Zilker Eagle as an interim solution while the Department works on creating the long-term vision for the park, and the community has a chance to determine and share how Zilker Eagle fits into the park’s future.”

More information on the train can be found at Proceeds from the Zilker Eagle will go to Zilker Park.

This story has been changed since publication to clarify the funding sources for the renovations and bus passes. Photo made available through a Creative Commons license.

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