Hike and Bike Trail parkland could be run by a nonprofit, rather than the City of Austin

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — A group of land use experts is in town this week to explore the possibility of the Trail Foundation taking over the operation and management of Austin’s Ann and Roy Butler Hike and Bike Trail.

Right now, Austin’s Parks and Recreation Department (PARD) spends about $1 million a year on trail maintenance, mowing, hazardous tree work, storm water control and other issues that may arise.

The Urban Land Institute, a nonprofit based in Washington D.C., said its group of urban planning experts are touring neighborhoods around the trail and meeting with stakeholders. They’ll consider:

  • How to determine the liability and authority over the space
  • When to transfer operation of the trail, including prioritizing the transfer and phasing
  • Funding recommendations, brand development and philanthropic growth and cultivation
  • How to prioritize projects involved with maintaining the trail

Trail Foundation could operate and manage parkland

Heidi Anderson, Executive Director of the Trail Foundation, said right now, the nonprofit takes care of the 10-mile loop around Lady Bird Lake, but the trail sits on 200 acres of parkland.

If the city transfers operation and management responsibilities, the Trail Foundation could be in charge of areas like Auditorium Shores.

“We’re figuring that exact question out, what boundaries will be in play here,” Anderson said.

She said the reality is “the parks departments, not just in Austin, but all across the United States, [their] budgets are getting cut.”

According to Anderson, the Trail Foundation already spends $3 million a year to maintain the trail. “We’re already investing more into the trail than the city is able to do, and we’re doing that through private donations,” she said.

Anderson added that the foundation is also able to complete improvement projects more quickly than the city can.

“We don’t have to go through all the city processes that the city has to put themselves through,” she explained. “This bridge, for instance, under Congress Avenue, only took about three months to be constructed here on site.”

How the partnership works now

Currently, if the Trail Foundation wants to add a new feature to the Hike and Bike Trail, it proposes a project, and PARD reviews the project’s feasibility.

Kim McKnight, Acting Assistant Director of PARD, told KXAN: “We develop agreements to cover the project construction as well as future maintenance. At the project’s completion, it is turned over the city and becomes a city asset.”

McKnight said in an email that letting a nonprofit operate and manage the trail and parkland around it “has benefits for a park space because it allows for a more singular focus from one organization. It also benefits our system as a whole as it allows PARD to channel resources in areas of town that lack strong private partners.”

If the transfer happens, however, it doesn’t mean the Trail Foundation will own the trail and the land around it. They’ll remain city-owned.

Recommendations from the consultants

The ULI consultants will present their recommendations Friday morning. The public is invited to attend the presentation.

Details:

  • Friday, Aug. 30, from 10:15 to 11:45 a.m.
  • At the Austin Central Library Special Events Room, 710 Cesar Chavez St.

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