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Trail Foundation begins major enhancement of Rainey trailhead

Thursday, January 27, 2022 by Willow Higgins

The Trail Foundation, which will soon be taking over the management of the city’s hike-and-bike trail, is working on one of its first major enhancements of the trail. The Rainey Street Trailhead, which is situated at the southern end of Rainey Street, will be undergoing a major face-lift, thanks to TTF.

The existing park doesn’t get much use, according to Nick Blok, a TTF project manager who presented the project to the Downtown Commission last week. The current space is more of a maintained field than a park, primarily used for letting dogs run around.

The enhanced park, once finished, will include a nature play area for kids, two different seating areas, a multi-purpose water launch dock for access to Lady Bird Lake, a neighborhood lawn for recreational use, and lots of green space for native plant restoration. The entire park sits adjacent and connected to the hike-and-bike trail for joggers, walkers and cyclists to use at their leisure.

The Rainey Street Trailhead project began in 2019, pre-pandemic, with in-person community engagement meetings. TTF proposed two designs for the park based on the community’s expressed interests. The first design was more formal and organized, with circular areas segmenting various park features, while the layout of the second design was more naturalized and informal, and ultimately preferred by both the community and the Downtown Commission. TTF is moving forward with design No. 2.

The nature play area was described as a highlight of the design – TTF consulted a group from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center to figure out how to best use various natural elements to spark the imagination of children. The play area was designed in conjunction with the goals of the national Cities Connecting Children to Nature initiative. Austin was one of seven cities nationwide to receive a planning grant from the project in 2016.

“It’s a much more adventurous way of play than some of the traditional play elements,” Blok said at the meeting. “That all comes together into a series of log parts, both larger logs and kind of loose logs that kids can build forts out of. There are small grass mazes where you can hide and get down in the dirt and explore … there’s a sandpit, and a stage to really create your own adventures.”

The land has an impressive natural tree canopy that will be preserved in the enhanced park. All of the trees on the lot will be kept intact, except for the removal of three trees that are dead or in poor health.

“But the coolest thing is because the nature play uses all of these logs and loose parts, we’re actually able to reuse and recycle those trees we’re removing and put them right back into use in the nature play,” Blok said. 

Chair August Harris suggested that the bald cypress and mesquite tree that are being removed from the property could be used for more than just logs. “There are probably some wonderful folks who could do custom furniture for the park,” he said.

Trailhead rendering from The Trail Foundation and dwg. landscape architects via the city of Austin.

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