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More parking, restrooms, food trailers planned for popular trailhead at Auditorium Shores

Sarah Coppola
Some activists say that planned improvements to the trailhead, including a chilled drinking water station that would replace portable water jugs, don't address bigger issues that they say need solving.

The trailhead at Auditorium Shores is a popular spot on the Lady Bird Lake hike-and-bike trail, but it can also be a congested area when runners, cyclists and walkers converge there.

Austin's Parks and Recreation Department plans to make several changes to ease the congestion and improve the look of the area, which hasn't had an overhaul in decades.

The changes will include widening the trail, building new restrooms, expanding the parking lot, adding an area for mobile food vendors and creating better spaces to sit, take a water break or stretch before a run.

"Right now, (the trailhead) is just a place people get on the hike-and-bike path and move on," said Earl Broussard, president of the Austin landscape architecture firm TBG Partners, which is designing the changes. "We want it to be a destination — more accessible and user-friendly."

Not included in the area slated for changes are an off-leash dog area nearby and the space where large concerts are held. The city will make improvements to those areas later, possibly with help from C3 Presents, the Austin company that produces the Austin City Limits Music Festival. The company recently offered to pay for significant renovations to Auditorium Shores. TBG has created preliminary designs of the trailhead changes, which the city's parks board approved last week. Early next year, the firm will finish the final designs, which will then go to the City Council for review and approval.

Construction is expected to start in fall 2013 and take six to nine months. It won't require closing the trail or the large event space nearby, said parks department supervisor Marty Stump.

The work will cost $2 million — $1 million from the parks department and $1 million from a state grant.

The parking lot near the trailhead would be turned into a loop that lets cars both enter and exit from West Riverside Drive instead of having to leave via a road under the South First Street bridge. About 33 parking spaces would be added to the 64 spaces there now, and a small area near the lot would be added for a few food trailers.

The plans also call for new restrooms with a simple, modern design; new exercise equipment; a new stretching area; and a chilled drinking water station that would replace portable water jugs.

Decking, seating, raised planters, new landscaping and more trees would be added near the pond and gazebo, a structure that was recently renovated. The pond would be re-engineered to improve the quality of the water flowing into the lake. And the narrowest section of trail, beneath the South First Street bridge, would be widened to 15 feet, with better lighting and drainage added.

Public parkland along the lake's south shore for years has been caught in a snarl of setbacks. Austin voters in 1998 agreed to create a grand, central park by the lake. The area now includes the Palmer Events Center and the Long Center for the Performing Arts.

But the park is unfinished and has been the source of numerous disputes — including over its exact boundaries and whether the city was right to use millions of dollars from a voter-approved rental car tax to pay for Palmer operations instead of to develop the park. Some residents have also long urged the city to close a section of Riverside that cuts through the park, saying it poses a safety hazard and disrupts the park's flow. A traffic study released earlier this year by the city concluded that Riverside should stay open.

Longtime Zilker neighborhood activist Jeff Jack said those bigger issues — not just the trailhead — need to be addressed for the park to function well.

Jack, part of a citizens group that has pushed the city to fully develop and finish the south shore parkland, said, "The trailhead is important, but it's just one piece of the puzzle."

Contact Sarah Coppola at 912-2939