A Stroll Through the Park

About 9 last night I remembered that I’d seen that the fencing had been removed around Town Lake Park. So AJM and I walked down and took a stroll through Austin’s newest park. We were not alone. Couples lingered here and there under the full moon. We stood at the top of the observation mound and exclaimed our love for Austin. I don’t think Austin’s skyline has ever looked so beautiful despite the fact that the icons of my personal vision of Austin have been obscured by newer, shinier buildings.

Austin Butler Park

This park is different than any other park I know of in Austin. The scale provides a sense of intimacy and the layout seems designed specifically for meandering, rather than active recreation. There are not soccer fields or hike and bike paths and only one small open space signed “No Team Sports”. Instead there are curved walks through Lilliputian hills and woods, walks just right for wandering here, there, and nowhere. Or maybe over to the pond with its large spray fountain and three docks (carefully railed to prevent you from sitting on the edge with your feet overhanging into the pond). Or to the map of Texas with mileage to other Texas cities and four points of the compass. Or to the large circle inscribed with the words: Release, Return, Receive. We thought there should be an accompanying sign to the effect, “Drum circles should form only in designated areas.” There is also a spiral sitting area with what looks like bubble jets; the perfect spot for young mothers to sit while watching their toddlers splash and run about. The steel planters with xeriscape plants provide a 21st century industrial touch. But the park needs more trash cans! We saw an plastic bag full of doggie poop and a soda can in the grass–and the fence had been down only a few hours.

In addition to being designed for strolling hand-in-hand, Town Lake Park is the perfect playground for imaginative play. Rather than erecting a generic playscape, the designers provided a landscape for small children to roam and plenty of benches for their parents to sit while keeping a watchful eye. It is the very kind of park Austin needs if young families are going to live in the yardless condos popping up downtown. It fills a niche for those both younger and older to enjoy the outdoors that the sports/recreation parks for the active set don’t meet. I wish it had existed when I was raising my kid in an apartment on South 1st St.

Town Lake Park does not quite live up to the original vision presented almost 9 years ago. In July 2006, The Austin Chronicle detailed the cutbacks. Still it has been transformed into a wonderful space.

What other city can boast that rather than “pave paradise and put up a parking lot” that it tore out a parking lot and planted a park?

Updates

  • Town Lake Park was named officially Butler Park after Michael Butler who owned the land in the 1800s. His heirs donated the property to the city of Austin in 1941.
  • Butler Park is Austin’s first “green” park.
  • The Liz Carpenter Fountain quickly became a hugely popular attraction outstripping the city’s ability to maintain it. In 2010, recommendations to close the fountain were met with public outcry. The city examines ways to deal with the maintenance issues and has been forced to fill in the 5 little wading ponds that were so perfect for toddlers.

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