Barton Creek Pedestrian Bridge Nearing Completion

After a delay related to permitting installation of the bridge deck for the pedestrian bridge over Barton Creek has finally begun. The bridge deck beams for this segment should be in place by the end of next week. The bridge over 360 is already complete as well as the urban trail that extends south along the Mopac frontage road from the existing sidewalk at Via Fortuna across from Barton Creek mall.

Once complete there will be a protected, paved trail extending from downtown to the Mopac frontage road just south of the creek. Unfortunately once there you’ll have to deal with traffic to continue farther south.

The next phase of the trail will extend to Oak Hill, but it’s still in the planning stage and is not funded.

Barton Creek Pedestrian Bridge

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Barton Creek full after fall rain

Heavy rain in the area on October 30th resulted in very high levels on Barton Creek with peaks of 20,000 cfs at Highway 71 and about 19,000 at the 360 bridge. Here’s a video of what it looked like at Lost Creek Boulevard.

Yesterday I took a walk along the creek from about Twin Falls to the Violet Crown trail and saw a lot of evidence of high water. There were lots of trees down including at least one large pecan in the grove just downstream from the Mopac bridge. Here are a few photos.

On my way I checked on the progress of the Mopac pedestrian bridge. It looks like all the columns are up and they should start on the deck anytime. The projected finish date is March of 2016.

Violet Crown TrialAfter my walk along the creek I continued up the new Violet Crown Trail to the trail head on 290. The new trail markers are installed and make it easy to follow the route. This is a great addition to Austin’s evolving trail system.

Right now the creek is flowing all the way to the lake, the water is clear, and the trails are mostly dry. A great time to see the creek at it’s best.

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Urban Trails, Plus or Minus?

I’m an avid mountain biker and hiker. The main reason that Brenda and I live in Travis Country is because of access to the Barton Creek Greenbelt and Wilderness Park where I spend a lot of time. One disadvantage of the neighborhood, at least in my opinion, is the limited connectivity to surrounding communities. For instance, there’s no way to walk or bike to a restaurant or convenience store via sidewalks or bike paths. Although there are mountain bike trails that connect to Sunset Valley and even downtown, they are far from beginner friendly and suitable only for experienced riders.

Violet Crown Trial

Violet Crown Trail

Because of this I’ve been really excited about the City of Austin’s Urban Trails Plan, the Violet Crown Trail, and the Mopac Bicycle and Pedestrian Bridge. These projects promise the ability to ride from Travis Country to destinations ranging from Buda to Manor, and also provide local access to entertainment and shopping without the need to drive.

When I think of the prospect of connecting my neighborhood to this network I have visions of rides with the grand kids to the ice cream store, or riding down town for dinner and a movie. But when the city approached our HOA’s board of directors to request access to neighborhood property to evaluate possible ways to participate, the reaction was quite different. The request was refused and at least one board member called the possibility of connectivity “a disaster for the neighborhood” and predicted that trails would “drastically change (the) neighborhood and increase crime and … flood (the) neighborhood with non-residents in all our amenity areas and greenbelts“.

Austin to Manor Trail

Austin to Manor Trail

Clearly these are two quite different points of view. One sees trails as an opportunity for residents of the neighborhood to connect with the broader community and the other as an opportunity for residents of the broader community to invade the neighborhood. I’m sure that both are valid to some extent, and in fact there are many gated communities in the area that have decided that isolation is the best course.

I did a quick Google search to see if there is any data on how urban trails affect communities and came up with only a couple of freely available studies. One, titled “Preceptions of How the Presence of Greenway Trails Affects the Value of Proximate Properties” published in 2001 took a look at nine studies of trails in different communities and concluded that;

“… there was broad consensus that trails have no negative impact on either the saleability of property (easier or more difficult to sell) or its value”.

The second, “The Impact of Greenways on Property Values: Evidence from Austin, Texas” published in 2005 concluded that;

“Physical access to a greenbelt had a significant, positive impact in one case, but was insignificant in two others. No negative greenway impacts were recorded”.

Although the summaries are focused on property values the issue of crime was addressed in at lease one section. On page 120 the “Perceptions” study included this quote from one of the included studies…

“In summary, this study indicates that concerns about decreased property values, increased crime, and a lower quality of life due to the construction of multi-use trails are unfounded. In fact, the opposite is true. The study indicates that multi-use trails are an amenity that helps sell homes, increases property values and improves the quality of life (p. 3).”

Both of these studies include a lot of information and references to opposing opinions so they are a great starting point for further study if you’re so inclined.

Based on this quick search it seems that, at the very least, it’s not obvious that negative impacts would outweigh the positive and there should be room for a discussion.

So what’s your opinion? Are urban trails a plus or a minus? If there’s some of both what’s the best way to accentuate the positives and minimize the negatives? Would you support or oppose a plan to connect your neighborhood to a trails network, or would it depend on the specific plan or type of trail?



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Tubing Barton Creek 2015

On June 6th a few friends and I decided to tube down Barton Creek. I had checked out the flow earlier in the week so I thought conditions would be pretty good. We started at Lost Creek Boulevard and planned to get out at either Sculptured Falls or Twin Falls depending on how things went.

The last time I tried this the flow was only 40 cfs which resulted in a lot of walking.  This time the creek was running at just over 200 cfs and conditions were great. There was plenty of flow to keep us going in the slow sections and most of the rapids and smaller dams had enough water to tube through.

I had my phone in a dry box which turned out to be not so dry, so I don’t have an accurate log of the trip, but my guess is that it took a little over 2 hours to get to Sculpture Falls and maybe another hour to Twin Falls. Although we stopped there there was probably plenty of water to continue to 360 or beyond.

We all had fun, even though between us we lost a hat, sunglasses, a wedding ring and one waterlogged phone. It’s probably a good idea to leave anything valuable at home.

Based on my two experiences I think that 200 cfs is plenty of water for a fun ride. More would be fine as long as the creek is still in it’s banks, but I don’t have a feel for how much is starting to get unsafe. On the other hand, 40 isn’t enough for a good ride. You’ll end up walking a lot in the slower sections.

Here’s a short video to give you any idea of the trip. Unfortunately my camera fogged up regularly and I’m not very good at video, but you can get the idea.

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Flooding on Barton Creek


We’re finally getting the rain we’ve been hoping for that will make a difference in the highland lake levels. Barton Creek has flooded and as I write this it’s running at about 1000 cfs at Loop 360.

If you’re looking for photos you won’t get them here. First of all I won’t hike in the greenbelt until it dries out a bit. Walking on the trails when they’re muddy is damaging. But the main reason is that it’s dangerous down there right now. Several tubers and kayakers  have already been rescued by the fire department. Not only is this dangerous for the folks rescued it’s also dangerous for the rescuers.

There are lots of on line videos of the flooding including on Austin Parks and Recreation Facebook page.

Here are a few options is want to safely get a close look at the creek at flood stage.

Stay safe out there!


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Spring in Barton Creek Greenbelt

I had a chance to take a walk in the Barton Creek Greenbelt today and thought I’d share some pictures. First stop was Twin Falls. Only one side is flowing right now but there’s still plenty of water to swim.

Twin Falls

Twin Falls on the Barton Creek Greenbelt

Next stop was the construction site for the Barton Creek pedestrian bridge. The footings are complete and it looks like they’re getting ready to pour the bridge support columns. Here’s a couple of pics.

Barton Creek pedestrian bridge

Footer for bridge support columns

Barton Creek pedestrian bridge

Rebar ready to pour columns

Just downstream of the construction site at the MoPac bridge is one of the bigger swimming holes on the creek. This is also one of the first on the upper greenbelt to dry up, but right now it’s full.

Mopac swimming hole on Barton Creek

Mopac swimming hole on Barton Creek Greenbelt

From there it’s a short walk to the start of the newest section of the Violet Crown Trail. Look for a right turn just before a dry creek crossing. This section of the trail goes through an old pecan grove.

Barton Creek Greenbelt

Pecan grove just downstream from the Mopac bridge

The city is in the process of installing new trail markers. Unfortunately it probably won’t be long before they’re tagged. This trail follows along Gaines Creek for a while and ends up at Travis Country. If you want to follow the Violet Crown trail take the left branch when you come to a Y and head uphill via several switchbacks. You’ll end up on the 290/71 frontage road just east of Spec’s. From there the trail will continue south through Sunset Valley and eventually Buda. Here are a few more pics of the trail.

Violet Crown Trail

New trail markers

Violet Crown Trail

One of the many Gaines Creek crossings on the Violet Crown Trail

Gaines Green Greenbelt

Any idea what this plant is?

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Progress on the Barton Creek Pedestrian Bridge

Barton Creek Pedestrian BridgeAfter running into foundation problems that required a bit of redesign work has started again on the Mopac pedestrian bridge over the Barton Creek Greenbelt. Several of the foundations for the new bridge piers are complete and the rest are under construction.

The bridge will be next to and just below the level of the roadway. The photo to the right is looking along the route. A second bridge will cross over Loop 360 creating a paved hike / bikeway all the way to downtown

The current schedule is for completion in about a year.

Here’s a look at what the completed foundations look like.

Barton Creek bridge foundation

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Barton Creek Full after recent rains

After the trails dried out for a couple of days I took a walk down to the Barton Creek Greenbelt to see how the recent rains affected water levels. As you might expect the creek is full with plenty of flow for kayaking, although I think I’d want a wet suit if there were a chance of falling in. It’s cold! Here’s a look at the creek between Twin and Sculpture falls.

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Violet Crown Trailhead open in Sunset Valley

Violet Crown TrailI was driving west on the 290 frontage road just before Brodie lane the other day and thought I saw something new flash by, so I headed out to explore. Sure enough the new Violet Crown trail head in Sunset Valley is now open. There’s no parking so if you’re planning to head down the trail from here I suggest parking in the Spec’s parking lot. From there just head east on the gravel path along the west bound frontage road and you’ll see the trail head just past the water collection structure next to Spec’s.

This section is about one mile long and joins the existing Sweet 16 trail which runs between Barton Creek and Travis Country. Bear right / downhill at the intersection to get to the creek. This is a relatively smooth trail, but there are a couple of creek crossings before it joins the main Barton Creek trail just downstream from the Mopac bridge.

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Tubing on the Barton Creek Greenbelt

On father’s day I decided to see how practical it is to tube on Barton Creek and how much water is required for a good trip. I started at Lost Creek Boulevard and planned to get to Sculpture Falls, a distance of about two miles. When I started the USGS stream flow gauge at Lost Creek was showing about 40 cfs. This is higher than normal, but well below flows that are common after a heavy rain.

At the beginning of the ride the water was fast enough to move me along fairly well, but the creek flattens out for several long sections which resulted in lot of paddling. In a couple of sections I hit a strong headwind and ended up walking a bit. On the bright side the scenery was great. I saw a couple of water birds, and almost no people except at the popular swimming holes.

Total elapsed time for the trip was about two and one half hours. Although it was fun my conclusion is that this isn’t enough water for tubing unless you’re willing to work at it. There was enough water for a fun beginners kayak trip, but unfortunately the only practical access point to haul out is the 360 trail head, and at this rate of flow there isn’t enough water to get there. Downstream from Twin Falls the creek gets pretty shallow.

Here’s a video of some of the faster parts of the creek.

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This week on Barton Creek Greenbelt

I took a short ride yesterday on the Barton Creek Greenbelt to check on the creek after last week’s rains. The creek is still relatively full with good flow around the high spot just downstream from the Mopac bridge, and Twin Falls is flowing clear on both sides. As of this morning the USGS reports a flow of 17 cfs at the 360 bridge, another sign that the creek is full.

I took another ride on the new alignment for Sweet Sixteen and although some of the more challenging obstacles are gone I think that it’s an improvement overall. I didn’t head up the Violet Crown trial to 290/71 because from what I could see from the top last week the final connection still hasn’t been made.

There’s been some progress on the Mopac pedestrian bridge. The foundation for the bridge seems to be complete on the south side and there’s what looks like a temporary bridge for construction equipment in the creek bed.

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This Week on the Barton Creek Greenbelt

We received about three inches of rain at our house, so I headed down to the Barton Creek Greenbelt to see what effect it had on water levels. Although three inches seemed like a lot of rain, and a lot of it fell to the west, the creek wasn’t super high. Twin Falls was only flowing on one side. I didn’t get to Sculpture Falls, but I’m sure that it’s flowing well and the swimming hole is full.

I took another opportunity to ride the re-aligned Sweet Sixteen and although it removed a few of the more challenging obstacles I think that overall it’s an improvement. Some of the areas that were prone to erosion have been bypassed, which is a good thing.

There wan’t any visible progress on the Mopac pedestrian bridge. I’m looking forward to seeing it start to go up.

Looking upstream towards the Mopac Bridge

Looking upstream towards the Mopac Bridge

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Barton Creek Greenbelt Violet Crown Trail Under Construction

The weather was nice yesterday so I headed out to the Barton Creek Greenbelt to see what’s new. As expected the creek is slowly drying up. There’s still decent flow at the Hill of Life dams but a very little at Sculptured Falls where the swimming hole is beginning to stagnate.

Hill of Life Dam

Hill of Life Dam

After a (not so) quick trip up the Hill of Life I rode down to check on the construction of the Mopac pedestrian bridge. There were workers in the creek bed working on what appeared to be large steel girders. No evidence of support columns yet.

Finally, I heard from a neighbor that the old Sweet Sixteen trail had been realigned, so I took a trip up it to see. Not only has the lower section been changed in places to make it more forgiving, but a new section has been added that terminates close to the 290/71 frontage road just behind the retention pond next to Specs. I didn’t see how the final connection was going to be made, but I suspect that it will follow the boundary of the retention pond out to the road. This is the new section of the Violet Crown Trail that I’ve been waiting for. It will continue down Brodie Lane from there. Here’s a look at the route.

Violet Crown Trail

Violet Crown Trail



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Barton Creek Greenbelt Mopac Bridge

You may have noticed a flurry of construction in the area of the Mopac bridge over the Barton Creek Greenbelt. This is the start of a multi-phase project to provide a bicycle and pedestrian bridge over Barton Creek. For cyclists this will eliminate traversing a dangerous stretch of Mopac frontage road to get from south of the creek to downtown Austin.

Details of the plan are available on the website including diagrams and renderings of the final project. Here’s a look at what to expect when it’s done.

Mopac bicycle bridge

I took a ride along Barton Creek to look over the construction site and so far they’re only moving dirt, but it seems as though we should see bridge supports appearing soon. Curbs for the bike lanes on the South end turnaround are being installed now. This is going to be a great addition to Austin’s trail system.

During my ride I also checked out the swimming holes in my part of the creek. Twin Falls was barely flowing and the pool below was looking pretty dirty. Sculpture still had good flow and the swimming hole was clear. The Hill of Life dams are flowing well.

Finally, I’m starting to see a sure sign of spring, flowering Mexican buckeye. Here are some pics from my ride.


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Hiking the Violet Crown Trail

I took a walk last week and decided to see if I could follow the proposed route of the Violet Crown Trail from Barton Creek up to Sunset Valley. At least this is roughly the route that I think it will take based on the map on the trail’s website.

Mopac Swimming Hole

Mopac Swimming Hole

The starting point is just down stream from the Mopac bridge, site of a large swimming hole when the creek is full as it is now.

From there it follows the path of Gaines Creek upstream. This is a popular mountain bike and hiking trail, called Sweet 16 by some because it crosses the creek about sixteen times from the start to the end at the old entrance to Travis Country.

Violet Crown Trail

Violet Crown Trail

At some point, I’m not sure of the official route, the trail will leave the creek and existing trail and head uphill to the shopping center at the corner of 290/71 and Mopac. As far as I can tell it will emerge roughly behind the Sams Club store.

This is a fairly rough trail, so don’t expect anything like the Ladybird Lake hike and bike experience. It’s steep and rocky in places so even an expert mountain biker may be walking in a few spots. Total distance is one mile, so this may become a popular route to Twin Falls at some point if parking in the shopping center lot is allowed.

Sycamore Creek

Sycamore Creek

On my way down to the creek I followed Sycamore Creek out of Travis Country and saw the results of the recent flood. It’s amazing what the force of water can do.



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More rain has Barton Creek raging

We recorded five more inches of rain at our house near Mopac and Southwest Parkway last night which means the creek is flooded once again. I won’t head out on the trails for a couple of days to let things dry out, but I did take a look from the bridge at Barton Creek Blvd.

The water was clearly over the old low water crossing and is still just about level with it on the upstream side. Here are some pics and a video of a few kayakers.

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Barton Creek full after recent rains

I finally got down to the Barton Creek Greenbelt after the recent rains, (12-14″ at our house!) to check out my favorite swimming holes. I normally wait a few days after a rain to prevent damage to the trails, but in this case it was a little longer than normal due to a busy weekend.

Flood debris on Barton Creek Greenbelt

Flood debris on Barton Creek Greenbelt

At it’s highest the creek was well above the trail in most places. To get an idea here’s a photo of debris in the tree at the Mopac bridge swimming hole. As is typical for a flood of this magnitude I saw several places in the trail where things have been rearranged a bit. It may take a week or so for the city to clear things out and for the trail to settle into it’s new configuration.

As you might expect the creek is full and as of today still running around the bend just downstream from the Mopac bridge. This is a high spot that drys up pretty early on as the creek slows down, so it’s a good indication that we have flow all the way to Barton Springs. It looks like great conditions for tubing or kayaking for beginners. You may have to walk a bit but you won’t have to deal with dangerous conditions.

Here are a couple of videos and some more photos…


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Wildflowers in the Barton Creek Greenbelt

Lindheimer's senna

Lindheimer’s senna

I was taking a walk in the Barton Creek greenbelt yesterday and saw a lot of large plants with yellow blooms that I wasn’t familiar with.

A quick check with the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center’s website identified it as Lindheimer’s senna or velvet-leaf wild sensitive plant.

It seems to like open areas with lots of sun.

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Recent rains have no effect on Barton Creek Flow

I took a quick ride to the upper Barton Creek Greenbelt on Monday hoping to see some additional flow at Sculpture Falls, but was disappointed. There is a little flow at the Hill of Life dam, but the pool below the dam is looking a little stagnant. Nothing at Sculpture and of course ditto for Twin Falls. We need more rain!

American Beauty Berry in the Barton Creek Greenbelt

American Beauty Berry in the Barton Creek Greenbelt

The rain did seem to perk up the American Beauty Berries that are doing their best to put on their fall show.

This photo is from a previous year, so they’re looking a little sad compared to these, but at least better than last year which was a total bust.


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Barton Creek Greenbelt after the rain

I managed a quick trip down to a couple of favorite swimming holes in the Barton Creek Greenbelt this morning to check on the results of the recent rains. The trails were fine. A little sticky but no deep mud.

I was a bit disappointed as the creek was flowing all the way to 360 for a bit during the rains. Unfortunately it must have been short lived as now the water stops just below Sculpture Falls, where there’s a little bit of flow over both sides. Twin Falls is completely dry.

On the bright side the long term forecast for this fall is for normal rainfall, which should get the creek flowing again.

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