Bird Lake

Rene Kinkade (left) and Samantha Mendoua go for an early morning run along Lady Bird Lake. This is one of many scenic, well maintained trails near UT’s campus.
Photo Credit: Carlo Nasisse | Daily Texan Staff

UT students can find a number of well-maintained, safe trails that start or end near campus. Many of the trails are bike-friendly and are often crowded with runners — especially as the Austin Marathon approaches. The five best trails near campus are all reachable by foot. Competitive runners, Saturday morning joggers and those trying to get through their first mile can enjoy the sweet spring weather on these trails. 

Shoal Creek

Head down 24th Street across North Lamar Boulevard. Across the overpass, turn left and head down the concrete steps to an oasis that feels far-removed from the surrounding cityscape. This trail is generally less crowded than the trails around Lady Bird Lake, but it is not as well kept. Runners may have to skip along the limestone rocks in order to cross muddier parts of the trail. Shoal Creek Trail is about three miles long or six miles round-trip.

Lady Bird Lake

From the Shoal Creek Trail, cross West Cesar Chavez Street and turn right onto the Lady Bird Lake trail. This trail features scenic lake views, interesting graffiti and plenty of fellow runners. Runners can spot birds, turtles and other wildlife along the trail throughout the year. Mexican free-tailed bats emerge from under South First Bridge around sunset during the summer and autumn. A new trail, with several small gazebos and water fountains, was recently built to the east of First Street and Congress Avenue along the lake.

Barton Creek Greenbelt

Take a turn off the Lady Bird Lake trail into Zilker Park and begin the 7.2-mile trail through diverse foliage and scenic limestone waterfalls. This trail is not for the faint of heart — it can get rocky and hilly, and runners must be alert for mountain bikers — but it’s worth it. The Barton Creek Greenbelt is one of the best hiking trails in Texas, according to Texas Monthly. 

North Campus/Hyde Park

From the north side of campus, run down Red River Street, past the Lyndon B. Johnson Library, and turn left on 38th Street. From there, the quiet Hyde Park neighborhood awaits. A runner can either turn left onto Speedway for a quick three-mile track or continue looping through the neighborhood for a longer path past small, bright houses. For a sweet treat after a run, they can stop at Quack’s 43rd Street Bakery for a pastry or Dolce Vita for some gelato. 

Mount Bonnell

For an even longer, hilly route, run down Speedway past the Capitol and turn right at Lady Bird Lake. Keep running on the lake trail until you get to Exposition Boulevard. Run up Exposition Boulevard until you get to West 35th Street, where you should turn left to find the trails at Mount Bonnell. Pack a camera to capture some of the best views of the City. To get back to UT, continue running down 35th Street until the road turns into 38th Street. The road will eventually hit campus.

When the women’s rowing team takes to Lady Bird Lake on Saturday to compete in the Head of the Colorado regatta, it will mark the first race in the program’s history without former head coach Carie Graves, who helped start the program in 1998 and announced her retirement in May. 

Instead, the team is now in the hands of Dave O’Neill, a fresh face in Austin but a familiar sight at the NCAA Championships every spring.
During his 16 seasons as the head coach at UC-Berkeley, O’Neill won two NCAA team titles and led the Golden Bears to the NCAA Championships every year, earning him two National Coach of the Year awards. Given his success, O’Neill said he was ready for a new challenge once the top job opened up at Texas. 

“I felt the timing was right,” O’Neill said. “I had great success at Cal. I was really proud of everything we accomplished, and I worked with some wonderful, wonderful people, but then the last few years I started thinking, ‘Could there be something bigger and better?’ I don’t think it was necessarily a mid-life crisis, but I think I was certainly at a point in my career where it’s like, OK, I’ve been at Cal; I did a great job, and now I think I’m fortunate that I’m young enough that I can maybe go somewhere else and make a big mark and do something special.”

O’Neill said women’s athletic director Chris Plonsky’s commitment to raising the profile of Texas rowing, in addition to the size and resources of the University, is ultimately what drew him to Texas. 

“One of the things that Chris Plonsky said to me was, ‘We know we can be good at this sport. We know we should be good at this sport. We want to be good at this sport and good in terms of amongst the top programs in the country,’” O’Neill said. “And that’s entirely why I came.”

Texas won four consecutive Big 12 championships from 2009 to 2012, a streak that ended when Oklahoma edged out the Longhorns to capture the 2013 title. After a fourth-place finish for the Longhorns in 2014, O’Neill said he plans on using the races in the fall, which do not count toward the team’s ranking, to prepare for the more important regattas in the spring. 

Something that guides me every day is, ‘The main thing is keeping the main thing the main thing,’ and the main thing is go fast on May 17, the Big 12 Championship,” O’Neill said. “So the fall is entirely about preparing for the spring. There’s three things we have to do: We have to get fitter physically; we’ve got to get better technically; and then we’ve got to improve the culture of the team.”

O’Neill’s résumé also includes stints as the head coach for the U.S. Women’s Under-23 National Team and coaching at the 2012 London Olympics. However, he said he most enjoys the aspects of competition that are unique to collegiate rowing. 

“The Olympics are super cool, but the NCAA regatta is the only championship regatta in the world where every boat is dependent on every other boat for their own success,” O’Neill said. 

Photo Credit: Connor Murphy | Daily Texan Staff

On the shores of Lady Bird Lake, Celtic history and culture come to life. Rows of Highland dancers in bright kilts take to the stage while vendors along the path sell everything from pastries to Scotch eggs. The air fills with the sounds of Irish fiddles and Scottish bagpipes. This is the Austin Celtic Festival.

The 18th annual Austin Celtic Festival will be held Saturday and Sunday at Fiesta Gardens near Lady Bird Lake. The festival will feature authentic Celtic music, dance, crafts and sports.

Funded in part by the City of Austin Cultural Arts Division, the festival is the largest gathering devoted to Celtic culture in Central Texas and seeks to celebrate and preserve Irish and Scottish history through the arts.

“Above all, I will say that, when the story of many nations are asked to be told, they will go to the library and pull down great books,” said Donnelle McKaskle, Austin Celtic Festival director. “But when the story of the Celts are told, we tend to go to the shelf and take down our fiddles.”

The Prodigals, an American band whose sound fuses punk music with traditional Celtic melodic elements, is among the musical groups playing at the festival. 

“We meld those roots, which is what I and our guitarist grew up with, along with the wonderfully mad musical anarchy that is New York,” said Gregory Grene, the band’s frontman.

Grene said folk music has the power to make history and culture accessible to modern listeners.

“The music acquires the force of subversion,” Grene said. “And that power stays with the music, even after the politics behind it has changed.”

The festival will also feature historical reenactments, in which historians set up reconstructed artifacts and activities in a historically accurate manner so observers can have a vivid sense of what ancient life was like.

Texas Coritani, an Iron Age living history group based in Central Texas, will set up a Celtic campsite on festival grounds to educate festivalgoers about the life and history of ancient Celts.

“Our members, as living historians, assume the role of interpreters rather than actors,” Texas Coritani member Jeff Scharp said. “This affects our displays and interactions to be much more personal instead of being like a cold museum or store window.”

Careful work goes into Texas Coritani’s setup process to ensure an authentic experience.

“We’ve narrowed our focus on a tribe in the East Midlands,” Scharp said. “It allows us to have an expert knowledge of time and place by having materials [and] items that go together, rather than a mish-mash of random Celt-ish stuff.”

The dragon boat races will be held this Saturday at Lady Bird Lake. 

Courtesy Photo of Asian American Cultural Center

Lady Bird Lake is usually filled with paddle boards and canoes on Saturday afternoons. But this Saturday, 40-foot-long boats shaped and painted like dragons will fill the lake for the 16th annual Austin Dragon Boat Festival.

Two teams from UT, one from the Chinese Students Association and one from the Chinese Students and Scholars Association, will participate in the dragon boat races, a 2,000-year-old tradition. Each dragon boat carries 22 people. While 20 people row, one person steers the boat and the other beats a drum to allow the paddlers to keep pace.

“One of the most challenging things about dragon boat racing is teamwork,” said UT alum Sheena Chang, a former Chinese Students Association member who is coaching the UT teams. “All 20 paddlers should be doing the exact same thing at the exact same time, while the person who steers helps keep the boat straight and the drummer helps keep everyone in sync.”

Chang is also the coach for the Austin Coolers Dragon Boat Team, one of the other 17 teams participating in the races. The Austin Coolers team trains year round and also participates in international dragon boat racing competitions. 

“What I’ve learned from training different types of teams is that everyone learns differently,” Chang said. “On race day, each team applies it differently, so it’s always very exciting to see who comes out on top from year to year.”

The Asian American Cultural Center, in collaboration with the Asian American Community Partnership, has organized the races in Austin for 16 years now.

“Austin has a growing Asian-American population and we wanted to make our contribution to Austin’s diversity and showcase our cultural heritage,” said Amy Wong Mok, president and CEO of the Asian American Cultural Center. 

Before the races, a traditional ceremony known as “Dotting the Eyes of the Dragon” is performed to commemorate the occasion.

“Traditionally, the dragon boats are buried under the sand,” Mok said. “Before the start of the race, we take out the boat and decorate it. The dignitaries will put the ‘eyes,’ using ink, some water and even earth, on the dragon. We believe the dragon was sleeping all this time, and when you give them the eyes, they have the eyes to fly on the water.”

Tiger Wu, electrical engineering junior and captain of the Chinese Students Association dragon boat team, said winning the 500-meter race is all about endurance, technique and synchronization. 

“Not a lot of people like to paddle or row when they have spare time,” Wu said. “It’s different when you are paddling and there’s a lot of stress on your back and your shoulders.”

Wu’s team has been practicing for an hour every Sunday at Lady Bird Lake for the past five weeks. One missed beat can make or break the team’s chances of winning a race.

“If someone in the front is getting tired and is not doing what they should be doing, it makes the timing go wrong for everyone on the boat,” Wu said.  

For Wu, the adrenaline rush makes all the effort worth it.

“It’s most rewarding for me when I see families come together to celebrate this festival,” Mok said. ”I feel proud to see the children from different Asian countries promoting and showcasing their heritage and culture.”

Wild Art

Ryan Stanley waxes canoes at the Texas Rowing Center at Lady Bird Lake on Monday afternoon.

Construction workers work on the city of Austin’s Waller Creek Tunnel Project on Wednesday afternoon. The projects goal is to redirect water flow so some areas of downtown would be at less risk of floods.

Photo Credit: Shelby Tauber | Daily Texan Staff

For years, business owners avoided building in some parts of downtown — the chance the area would flood made the decision too economically risky. If the City of Austin’s Waller Creek Tunnel Project is successful, 28 acres of downtown will be reclaimed to allow for area redevelopment.

Waller Creek begins north of the University and runs south through downtown and into Lady Bird Lake. The project’s goal is to redirect water flow away from a 100-year floodplain, a low-lying area near a river which is subject to flooding. 

According to Carolyn Perez, Austin Public Works Department communications manager, the project will allow for economic redevelopment of the area.

“It will provide flood protection and make it possible to revitalize parts of downtown that have been stagnant for years,” Perez said.

Perez said area residents have tried to add improvements such as park benches to the creek area, but their efforts were unsuccessful.

“There is an ever-present fear of floodwater,” Perez said. “If you go down to that part of the creek, you can actually see places where people have tried to make improvements, but they were washed away with the next flood.”

Phillip Fry is co-editor of “Austin’s Waller Creek,” a book about the history and vision of Waller Creek that will be published later this year. Fry said he is concerned that real estate in the area will become so expensive that only high-rises or multiple-use buildings will be able to afford building there.

“I think there will be positive things, but I’m starting to think that there will be many changes that some of the old-timers will regret — like the [elimination of the] music scene from 9th Street down to the river,” Fry said. “Commercial development will really have an impact there unless they preserve [the area].”

Perez said the process of lining the 5,600-foot tunnel with concrete is about 40 percent completed and said the tunnel will be fully operational by the end of 2014. According to Perez, the overall project costs $146.5 million — including land acquisition, engineering and project management — and is funded through the Waller Creek Tax Increment Financing Zone. The flood control tunnel construction, a major component of the project, will cost $106 million.

The Waller Creek Conservancy is implementing a design that will rehabilitate the creek ecology and revitalize area parks. Stephanie McDonald, Waller Creek Conservancy executive director, said the Conservancy will focus on areas between 15th Street and Lady Bird Lake, including the floodplain that the tunnel project is reclaiming. 

“Within walking distance of UT, you’ll have a repurposed Waterloo Park and Symphony Square,” Fry said. “It will be accessible by bike-and-hike and even possibly by rail.”

Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole tours the Waller Creek Tunnel with press and members of the projet, set to be completed by fall 2014. 

 

Photo Credit: Helen Fernandez | Daily Texan Staff

Waller Creek may soon become a more accessible and central part of campus if construction of an underground tunnel is completed on schedule.

Waller Creek begins north of UT’s campus and flows into Lady Bird Lake. The creek spans approximately 20 city blocks, which represents 11 percent of downtown Austin, according to the Waller Creek Conservancy’s website. The conservancy works to redevelop Waller Creek into a natural setting that Austin citizens and visitors can enjoy. 

The entrance to the construction site is located at Fifth Street and Interstate 35. The project will clear the floodplain for redevelopment and prevent erosion so that the area is more visitor friendly. The completion of the project might allow the construction of a rail line along Waller Creek that would potentially make the UT campus more accessible to surrounding communities.

In a guided tour of the Waller Creek tunnel construction site Friday, Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole noted the updated project completion date will be some time in fall 2014. Cole has served as an Austin City Council member for more than seven years and said the Waller Creek tunnel is her main project. 

Cole said in 1998, Austin citizens approved $25 million to improve Waller Creek, although she said she thought the funding was insufficient. 

“It wasn’t enough,” Cole said. “However, the $25 million served as the seed money for this $106 million cost of the project.”

Once the project is completed, property values are expected to increase, Cole said. All of the city’s additional revenue generated from that increase in property value will go toward financing the project over a 20-year period.

Phillip L. Fry, author and Austin resident, said he is writing a book about Waller Creek and Austin from its early history to modern times. Fry’s book focuses on future plans for the creek, and all proceeds from the book will benefit the Waller Creek Conservancy and the development of Waller Creek.

“The future of Waller Creek will influence the future of the UT campus,” Fry said. 

Recent master plans indicate that a rail line may run north-south of Waller Creek, which now runs through the east side of campus, according to Fry. 

“The creek will become the center of campus and perhaps replace Guadalupe as the main transportation route for pedestrians, light rail, hike-and-bike and buses,” Fry said.

Gary Jackson, the Waller Creek tunnel project manager for the City of Austin Department of Public Works Department, said there have been no unforeseen obstacles in the completion of the project and no injuries to the construction team. 

“We’ve done a very involved risk management process,” Jackson said. 

Lauren Alexander, development director for the Waller Creek Conservancy, says that the conservancy works closely with the City of Austin on this project. 

The conservancy is also involved in supporting the building team involved in implementing the final design of the park and maintaining its facilities, although fundraising is ongoing. Suzanne Deal Booth, board member of the conservancy, said that there is no budget for art, so after the design is finalized, the board will work to commission for great artists whose works will be integrated into the natural setting and design of the space. Booth estimates this process may take up to two years for the project to be ready for community use. 

“The University of Texas is an integral part of this project because students will be able to more easily ride buses or walk to Lady Bird Lake and enjoy all of the amenities that downtown Austin has to offer,” Cole said.

Austin Pets Alive! voulunteer Sara Bratcher takes Sharpie out for a run early Wednesday morning. 

Photo Credit: Pearce Murphy | Daily Texan Staff

Along the hub of outdoor activity in Austin, where flat trails meander along Lady Bird Lake, you may find devoted members of a local program called RuffTail Runners, formerly named Jog-A-Dog, an organization dedicated to taking shelter dogs from Austin Pets Alive! out of their concrete kennels and into a sun-filled, fresh-air environment. 

Austin Pets Alive!, an animal shelter seconds away from the trails of Lady Bird Lake promotes and provides the resources, education and programs needed to eliminate the killing of companion animals. In fact, the shelter has led Austin to be the largest no-kill city in the nation. 

RuffTail Runners was founded in 2009 when Rob Hill, head coach for Team Spiridon, an organization that encourages fitness while raising awareness for animals in Austin, started a running group. 

“My idea at first was just to help out by meeting the immediate need,” Hill said. “At its heart, it’s still just about getting a dog out of its kennel and letting it be a dog for a while. But now, we want to get every dog out of their kennel, in every shelter, everywhere.”

Hill’s love for dogs and experience in dog training has made the program known around Austin. A special moment for the program was when Andre, its tennis-ball-loving, toy-decimating mascot, was adopted after eight months in the shelter. 

Sara Bratcher, a social work sophomore, volunteers to take dogs to Lady Bird Lake four times a week. Bratcher said the term RuffTail “Runners” worried her at first because she had never enjoyed running. 

“I started running through the program,” Bratcher said. “I originally was not a runner at all, in fact, I hated running. But I loved dogs so I decided to sign up for the training. Slowly but surely I started to love it. It becomes easier when you see how happy it makes the pups.” 

Lindsay Marsh, the co-executive director, loves seeing the volunteers and the dogs when they come back from a run. Marsh said that dogs ultimately become more adoptable, which helps maintain a No-Kill society. 

“The shelter is stressful. The staff and volunteers do everything they can to ease dogs, but it’s still a concrete kennel with other dogs barking at you,” Marsh said. “RuffTail Runners helps dogs de-stress, keep them healthy and get them adopted.” 

Mike Kaviani, dog behavior program manager, said that RuffTail Runners prepares dogs for success in future homes by exposing them to real-life situations like running around Town Lake, seeing crowds of people and cars.  

Hill said Austin Pets Alive! doesn’t always get the easy dogs, but through hard work, creativity and love, the quality of life for dogs changes. 

“The road doesn’t seem to have an end, which is fine with me,” Hill said. “I’ve always loved animals and rescued strays. I once took in a pup that was found on the street at two-weeks-old. I love Neko so much, and it kills me to know there are others like her that may not have made it. Now that I’m in, there’s no getting out.”

Printed on Thursday, April 11, 2013 as Runners end dog days for pet shelter pooches 

On the Lake

A group of kayakers gather near Congress Avenue Bridge on Lady Bird Lake, Sunday night. Some kayak tour companies frequent the bridge for a different view of the Congress Avenue Bridge bats.

Zachary Strain | Daily Texan Staff

Umbrella Bridge

 

Naveah Gomez, 3, plays with an umbrella on the shore of Lady Bird Lake in response to overcast skies Monday afternoon while her sister Jada, 5, practices twirling.

Thomas Allison | Daily Texan Staff