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Photo by Mose Buchele/KUT

With new lakeside access, Lady Bird Lake trail is ‘finally fully complete’

Thursday, September 15, 2022 by Mose Buchele, KUT

The city of Austin has officially opened a new section of the hike and bike trail along Lady Bird Lake. The quarter-mile stretch of trail connects what officials said was the last remaining gap in the 10-mile lakeside loop.

Before Wednesday, the trail along the lake’s northeast shore turned away from the water near the property line of the now-dismantled Holly Power Plant. It sent joggers and bikers briefly through the park and neighborhood there, to cross Holly Street and rejoin the trail on the other side of the old plant.

Heidi Anderson, executive director of the Trail Foundation, said the opening of the new shoreline section realizes the dream of a complete waterside loop envisioned by the trail’s early proponents.

“It was back in 1971 that Lady Bird Johnson convened a group of committed citizens to begin planning this trail,” Anderson said at a ribbon-cutting ceremony. “Today, the trail is finally fully complete.”

The new section of trail also provides public access to about 9 acres of new East Austin parkland along the lake. The land had previously belonged to Austin Energy, which managed the old power plant.

Mose Buchele/KUT. The city dammed the Colorado River and created Lady Bird Lake when the Holly Power Plant was built in East Austin in 1958. The plant was decommissioned in 2007.

Built in 1958, the natural gas plant is the reason the city dammed the Colorado River and created the lake. But it was constructed against the wishes of many residents of what was historically a low-income Hispanic community.

“It’s been a dream of mine to open this (land) ever since we started protesting the power plant here decades ago,” Eastside resident and outgoing Council Member Pio Renteria said.

You know, that plant first leaked a lot of PCBs into the lake,” he said at the ribbon cutting. “Then the plant exploded once; they had a fire going. So it really upset the neighborhood.”

Mose Buchele/KUT. The new section of trail offers places to sit and look out onto the lake.

While the new trail section offers places to sit and take in fresh views of the water, much of the now-opened parkland remains undeveloped and covered in tall grass. It fills with the sounds of crickets and other insects during the day, and frogs and toads at night.

“The Trail Foundation will now step in, and we will work with the community to try and bring some enhancements to this space that bring it to life,” Anderson told KUT. “One example is the playground that was listed in the initial vision plan (in 2014) that the bond money just can’t fund at this point.”

Other proposed changes, including more baseball fields and the repurposing of old Austin Energy buildings, could take even longer to achieve, Reynaldo Hernandez, a project manager for the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, told KUT.

“The primary focus was to have this park space opened up to the public and make that connection of the trails,” he said. “Any future improvements will have to determine where the funding is going to come from.”

Several acres of the old power plant site will stay under Austin Energy’s management. They hold critical transmission infrastructure and are walled off.

Renteria said he is glad some of the site has been reopened to the public.

“The power plant should not (have been) built in a community. But (it was) because of the power plant that we had to build the lake. So we got a beautiful lake here,” he said. “One bad thing, but a good thing came out of it.”

This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT.

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