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Parks board takes long view toward managing watercraft on Lady Bird Lake

Monday, December 6, 2021 by Amy Smith

Concession operations at Town Lake Metropolitan Park, which includes recreational spots along Lady Bird Lake and Zilker Park, provided about $750,000 in revenue to the city’s General Fund in 2021.

That’s due in large part to Austin’s population surge as well as more people in general enjoying outdoor activities this year.

“We know anecdotally that there have been many more boats on the lake the past two summers when thousands of Austinites took to the water in search of safe outdoor recreation options during Covid,” Margaret Stenz of the Parks and Recreation Department told the Parks and Recreation Board last week. “But even before Covid, boating on Lady Bird Lake was one of the more popular activities in Austin for residents and tourists.”

The increased boating activity on the lake, along with boaters using their own personal watercraft, has been a point of concern for both the Parks and Recreation Board and Environmental Commission for some time.

The parks board formally accepted PARD’s annual concessions report with a resolution, brought by Board Member Nina Rinaldi, advising the parks department to continue working with the Watershed Protection Department and the Austin Fire Department to research regulations and code governing watercraft capacity on Lady Bird Lake.

The resolution calls for PARD to work with Watershed Protection to study watercraft impacts on the lake, covering erosion patterns, environmental impacts, water quality and litter abatement.

Board members voiced concern about the sheer number of people on the lake at one time, creating congestion in high-traffic areas and raising the specter of boats or other types of watercraft colliding with one another.

The resolution also asks PARD to explore spreading out boating concessions along Lady Bird Lake to extend into East Austin, and to continue working with the Austin Rowing Center to identify another location, given the pending construction of the Blue Line light rail on the eastern downtown spot where the ARC is currently located.

Photo made available through a Creative Commons license.

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