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Council puts Trail Foundation in charge of hike-and-bike trail

Wednesday, October 27, 2021 by Willow Higgins

On Thursday, Austin City Council gave the Trail Foundation authority over the Ann and Roy Butler Hike-and-Bike Trail at Town Lake Metropolitan Park. Specifically, Council authorized the Trail Foundation to “negotiate and execute” both the operations and the maintenance of the hike-and-bike trail, a centerpiece of recreation in the city.

The eventual passage of the agreement came after much discussion among Council members, who had differing concerns about how Council should be involved in future policies regarding the trail after the foundation takes over. While the agreement is still in draft form and the official contracts have yet to be produced, Council signed off on the passing of the torch from the city’s Parks and Recreation Department to the Trail Foundation, which will begin to manage trail maintenance, programming and concessions.

The parks department often partners with conservancies, nonprofits and businesses to care for city parks and green spaces; Council has already outsourced the management of Pease Park, downtown’s Republic Square Park and the Violet Crown Trail to other organizations. While these past partnerships have paved the way to the agreement with the Trail Foundation, balancing consistency across partnerships with other priorities was debated at length on Thursday.

Council Member Ann Kitchen proposed two amendments to the agreement; the first advocated that Council should have access to a final contract before officially signing the agreement.

Kitchen said she appreciates all of the backup Council has received but felt she was “still being asked to take a leap of faith and say, yes, go ahead and execute a contract for something that is hugely, hugely important for our community and that I have a responsibility to review.”

Kitchen’s second amendment was language requesting that Council have the ability to annually review and sign off on any changes made to the agreement, including adding concessions or special events.

Some Council members advocated for trust in the Trail Foundation – which was recommended and chosen as the designated partner and has put in years of work and more than $17.5 million into the agreement – to handle changes to the agreement properly, and to finish the contract in line with the material it has provided Council. Some Council members advocated meeting somewhere in between.

Austin Mayor Steve Adler called on Heidi Anderson, the foundation’s director, to share her thoughts on the proposed amendments. Anderson advocated against amending the agreement, as she fears if Council begins to pick it apart, the terms will begin to differ from other partnerships with the parks department.

“It’s important that all the partners have the ability to be treated equally and consistently,” Anderson said. “When that consistency breaks down, it has a ripple effect (on) all of us and starts to affect the ability for us to raise money, to plan and just to be successful in general. We feel like city staff is best suited, because of all of these years of research we’ve done together, to negotiate and execute (the agreement.)”

In the end, Council passed the agreement but amended it to direct that if the Trail Foundation were to change the agreement, or the balance of concessions and special events held at the hike-and-bike trail in a given year, the foundation should notify and brief Council before the changes are approved. If Council were to take issue with any of those changes, it should provide the Trail Foundation with its feedback and put the foundation in charge of negotiating and executing a solution to the qualm. Anderson said the Trail Foundation would agree to do so.

The finalized, amended language to the agreement has yet to be made publicly available.

Photo by Sk5893, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

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