Sunday, September 17, 2023

A Conversation About Funding

APF = Austin Parks Foundation website:

Do statements 1-2-3 sound familiar?  

The words "1. Austin is growing", "2. Parks are underfunded" and "3. Inequitable park access" were practically the backbone of the failed Zilker Park Vision Plan.

According the PARD/ZPVP Planners,

ZPVP: Population growth was why the park should have a 5,000-seat amphitheater on the Great Lawn -- a geographic area that could easily have become a 50K-seat venue.  "Austin is growingwas why Zilker Park should have three parking garages instead of its current distributed surface parking lot design. 

• I say: Zilker Park needs rules for capacity management, not exponential population growth.

ZPVP: "Parks are underfunded" was why the park should be under the management of the recently-formed Zilker351, a "non-profit" group with a professional parking garage architect on its board of directors. 

• I say: The COA leaders must step-up and generously fund the Parks Department.

ZPVP: "Inequitable access" was the logic behind why Zilker Park should be become "accessible for everyone in Austin" with new parking garages -- as if Zilker Park, by definition, currently offers inequitable access. 

• I say: The PARD/Planners pitched a narrative that the City was in a war of neighborhood-against-neighborhood rather than telling us the honest truth: Most visitors to the park on crowded summer days are TOURISTs. 

I believe that the Austin Parks Foundation has helped to install a consciousness of poverty in our Parks Department. It has become difficult to determine if our city's parks are managed with an intent for care -- or -- with an intent to demonstrate damage in order to secure private donations and economic leases of parkland and facilities. The citizens of Austin might lose control of what their parks look like and the way their parks function if the City's elected leaders continue to underfund our Parks Department.

We need a consciousness of abundance for our Parks Department. 
To our leaders: Great cities deserve great parks. 
Look at Cleveland, Toledo, Pittsburg and Philadelphia. 
Austin's parks deserve adequate funding. 
If the City of Austin Parks Department "has enough" I believe that they will do what is right for the citizens of Austin.

Austin Parks Foundation website:

Why Give to APF?


In our increasingly dense city, where health and a sense of connection are of the utmost importance, the need for parks has never been more urgent.

[My reply:] The population of ATX has tripled in the past 50 years. Yes, the City needs more parks and well-maintained parks in every neighborhood. I agree.

Yet Zilker Park is both a park for residents and tourists. In summer, Barton Springs Pool is one of the top tourist destinations in Central Texas. My estimate is that 71% of weekend water-zone visitors are tourists.  The large number of tourists will always be in dynamic tension with the number of residents who can access the park on hot summer peak-use days. The water-zone of Zilker Park has a capacity limit. The water-zone cannot become a larger area.

The only way to manage the competition between residents and tourists on peak-use summer days is with an advance reservation system. Such a system -- for pool entry and for parking in the water-zone -- will create equitable access for Austin residents who want to visit Zilker Park and Barton Springs pool on summer weekends.


The lack of adequate public funding makes it even more difficult to keep up with necessary maintenance of our over-loved parks, trails and green spaces.

[My reply:] Has this become PARD’s standard of park management? 

Is PARD intentionally neglecting maintenance of Zilker Park to demonstrate inadequate public funding?

Does Zilker Park look the way it does right now — in Sept. 2023 — because PARD wants to find a Tier A partner to fundraise inside the park? See article:  Working through the City’s legal department through a multi-year process, Christine [ Chute Canul] and her [PARD co-workers’] team have created a system that qualifies what a partnership with PARD is. Tier A, B, and C partners have requirements, responsibilities, and benefits identified. Tier A carries with it the ability to fundraise exclusively in the park, …”

I want to know: Why is the Zilker Clubhouse budgeted for a $3.4M renovation over the next 3 years, and we have no clue if there’s funding to repair the ecological devastation happening right now in Zilker Park?

I want the COA Legal Department to explain PARD's Tier A, B and C requirements, responsibilities and benefits.

Is Zilker Park being held hostage until a Tier A partner rescues it with billionaire donors?


When it comes to ensuring that all Austinites have access to parks in their neighborhoods, our city is missing the mark. But we can do better, and we need you to help us do it!

[My reply:] What is "equitable park access"? Here, even the APF defines “equity” as having parks in every neighborhood of Austin.

I agree. The Trust for Public Lands agrees. [See PARKSCORE: 70% of Austin residents live within a 10-minute walk of a park.]

How did PARD and the Planners ever convince the Parks Board's eleven district-appointed volunteer commissioners that EQUITABLE ACCESS to Zilker Park required three new parking garages inside the park? 

Time and again, the citizen advocates who wanted a well-maintained and more natural Zilker Park heard decision-makers refer to their districts as "not having equitable access to Zilker Park" and therefore needing new parking garages. The PARD/Planner's false narrative of "lack of equitable access to Zilker Park" has been a barrier to finding a philosophical common ground for much needed improvements to this metropolitan park.

I suggest that we continue to examine and pursue "equitable access" in the context of providing attractive, well-maintained public parks for all residents.  These will be parks within a 10-minute walk from home. That is an equity goal we can all feel good working toward.

In conclusion:

PARD must face the hard truth: To manage "population growth" and improve "equitable access" to Zilker Park on peak-use summer days, the pool and parking spaces need an advance reservation system. We already do it at Emma Long Metropolitan Park, and we can do it at Zilker. 

PARD must be fully funded by our elected leaders, not private non-profits.



A Conversation About Capacity

Zilker Park would like to be welcoming to all. 

But no one enjoys overcrowding at a tourist attraction like Barton Springs Pool in Zilker Park. Here is a recent TripAdvisor review of Barton Springs Pool:

How can we ensure that the park offers "access to the park for everyone in Austin" while preserving the ecological health of the park and improving visitor experiences with less crowding? 

I suggest for 2024: Prepaid reservations and timed-entry.

In summer of 2023, the ecology of the park suffered greatly due to overuse. Climate change hit hard with extra hot temperatures and drought. Poor parking lot locations caused turf damage from uncontrolled pedestrian pathways over 10.5 acres of compacted soil. 54 peak-use days presented possible violations of fire marshall code of capacity limits (approx. 4.5K max capacity inside the pool fence) on days when over 11.5K visitors entered the pool (July 2nd, 8am-10pm). A potential safety issue: If pool patrons are not counted as they exit -- and they aren't -- then we don't have a way to know if the fire marshall's capacity has been exceeded within the pool's fence.

My recommended solution: On peak-use hot summer weekends in Zilker Park, the water-zone must be managed as if it has a capacity limit. Access can be offered equitably, but not every resident and visitor to Austin can come to the park on that one day. Prepaid timed-entry reservations to the pool offers benefits to the visitors' satisfaction, less queueing time for cars and admissions, and parking options can be designed to minimize pedestrian pathways on vegetated soil. Car parking reservations will help control the number of visitors in the creek.

Just FYI, the following park facilities have a maximum capacity.

• Hamilton Pool Preserve in Texas has a capacity limit of 750 people per day

• McKinney Falls State Park in Austin has a capacity limit of 2,000 visitors per day.

• Enchanted Rock State Natural Area in Fredericksburg has a capacity limit of 800 visitors per day.

• Pedernales Falls State Park in Johnson City has a capacity limit of 1,000 visitors per day.

• Garner State Park in Concan has a capacity limit of 2,000 visitors per day.

• Palo Duro Canyon State Park in Canyon has a capacity limit of 3,000 visitors per day.

• Big Bend National Park in Terlingua has a capacity limit of 400 visitors per day in its Chisos Mountains Lodge.

Austin's own Emma Long Metropolitan Park has a PARD-managed advance reservation system. Cars are not permitted to queue at the entrance when the parking lot is “full.”

We've got this! We can make the park experience so much better for visitors while protecting the sensitive turf, trees, and aquifers. Let's make 2024 better with prepaid reservations and timed-entry.

Thanks -- dp

Photo journal:

Sunday, September 10, 2023

High priority: Informal pathway erosion is now dangerous for pedestrians. Please add berms and three sets of stairs ASAP.

In June 2023, the Polo Field was again opened and used as a weekend overflow parking lot. The surrounding area was never designed to accommodate pedestrian traffic from the Polo Field: In fact, there are not even any sidewalks.  

This map shows areas currently in a state of severe erosion due to pedestrian foot traffic:

Here is what the Zilker Park north entrance looked like in April 2023:

Compare to September, 2023:

Here is what the children's Zilker Playground looked like in April 2023:

Compare to September 2023:

Photos on Labor Day 2023:

September 2023, severe erosion shows exposed pipes:

Informal pathways from the Polo Field show severe soil erosion and compaction after summer of 2023:

The following eroded zone is between the Rugby Field and Barton Creek:

Below, a slippery slop beside Barton Springs Pool recently caused a man to slip, fall and break his arm.

We alerted this man just in time. In good spirit, he chose to take extra precautions:

Further erosional areas inside the pool grounds will be vulnerable to the next heavy rains:

Suggestion: Add three sets of stairs as soon as possible to prevent injury of pedestrians. Add temporary berms in all areas where topsoil is at risk of further erosion due to rain.

A Conversation About Funding

APF = Austin Parks Foundation website: Do statements 1-2-3 sound familiar?   The words "1. Austin is growing", "2. Parks are ...