Fundraising begins for improvements to Johnson Creek Trailhead
Improvements will include water fountains, retaining walls, wider paths under MoPac bridge on north side of lake
More trees, a longer retaining wall, wider pathways and a water fountain with spigots for 10 humans and a dog: It's all part of a plan to improve the trailhead underneath MoPac Boulevard (Loop 1) on the north side of Lady Bird Lake.
The Trail Foundation, a nonprofit group that works to maintain the hike-and-bike trail around Lady Bird Lake, has kicked off a campaign to pay for $475,000 worth of renovations to the Johnson Creek Trailhead, where about a third of all users access the trail.
"It's Austin's most important public space," says Susan Rankin, executive director of the Trail Foundation. "It's where the vast majority of people enter the trail, and it sets the tone for the entire experience. And (right now) it's inadequate."
The foundation has teamed with Austin-based Bosse & Pharis Associates Inc., which also designed Ella Wooten Park at the Mueller development, to design the new trailhead. Planning began in August.
Depending on how fundraising and permitting goes, construction could begin sometime during summer 2010. The project will take at least six months, but the trail will remain open for the duration.
The trail gets more than 1.5 million visits a year. "The Rock," a chunk of granite at the trailhead north of the lake, is a favorite spot for many trail users, a meeting point and a place to stretch. But the area around it is little more than packed dirt, some underused stretching bars and a table full of water jugs provided free by RunTex. It's crowded and chaotic, with drainage problems and places where the sidewalks are so narrow people hop out into Stephen F. Austin Drive.
Bosse & Pharis, which has been paid $20,000 for design services but is donating more than that, studied time-lapse photographs to decide how best to utilize the space.
Their solution includes pocket gardens fed by rainwater, more blocks of granite like the Rock for sitting and stretching, wider crushed gravel paths and a grander entrance with steps to the green space below the trailhead, says Don Bosse, president of Bosse & Pharis.
Support columns under the highway will become vertical gardens, with plants clinging to mesh grids. Plans also call for either improving the existing restroom across the street near Austin High School or installing a new facility.
In the end, the area will feel more like a plaza, Bosse says.
"Hopefully it'll encourage more people to use the trail," says Stefan Pharis, principal for Bosse & Pharis.
About $120,000, including $40,000 from the nonprofit Austin Parks Foundation, already has been committed to the project. To donate, go to www.thetrailfoundation.org.
Last year, I capped off my Biggest Running Year Ever (I did my first marathon) by running the Zooma Half Marathon.
The race, created by Brae Blackley, a self-proclaimed middle-of-the-pack runner from Washington, D.C., appealed for several reasons: It was staged at the Hyatt Regency Lost Pines Resort and Spa in Bastrop, it was geared toward women, and runners got a small silver necklace when they crossed the finish line. And did I mention cupcakes and music on the banks of the Colorado River afterward?
Blackley was in Austin recently to talk about the race's upcoming second year in Austin. A few changes are in store, but everything I loved remains.
The course — a challenging, hilly one — is changing slightly to accommodate more runners. It'll still be a roller-coaster route, but the last few miles will be flat, through the resort's golf course.
Last year, about 1,700 people did the half marathon; another 300 did the 5K. This year's half marathon is scheduled for March 27, with a 5K run and relay (four legs of the 5K course) on March 28. Or enter the fitness challenge and do both.
"The half-marathon is the most popular distance for women," says Blackley, who was a corporate attorney before she started the race series. "It's a challenge, but also very doable for most women."
Zooma expands its girls' weekend theme this year, with an outdoor showing of "Steel Magnolias" after Saturday's longer run, and a pool party at the resort on Sunday.
"Women these days are pulled in so many directions, and a lot of times the thing that gets cut out is time for self and fitness," Blackley says. "A lot of our demographic is first-time half marathoners, and they feel more comfortable in an environment that is smaller."
Registration is $75 for the half or $35 for 5K, but the entry fee increases by $10 on Jan. 6. For more information, go to www.zoomarun.com/austin. Training programs are posted on the Web site.
A portion of proceeds benefits Lifeworks, a nonprofit organization that provides social services to Austin-area youths and families.
The race is open to men, by the way. They typically make up about 5 percent of the runners in the race series, which is also staged in Annapolis, Md.; Denver; and Atlanta.
Start the New Year right by joining Hill Country Running Co. for a run at 8 a.m. Jan. 1.
Plan for a 45- to 90-minute outing, heading out to the Barton Creek Greenbelt. Free breakfast tacos will be provided after the run.
The run is free and open to anyone. Just meet at the store, 215 S. Lamar Blvd. For more information go to www.hillcountryrunningcompany.com.
RSVP to Andrea at firstname.lastname@example.org.