Park usage skyrockets during pandemic, new art installation encourages social distancing

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — When COVID-19 forced bars, restaurants and gyms to close, Austin’s parks and trails started seeing a significant increase in foot traffic.

“There are up to 10,000 people a day out here right now,” said Heidi Anderson, CEO of the Trail Foundation, about the Ann and Roy Butler Hike-and-Bike Trail.

Just up Lamar Boulevard, Heath Riddles told KXAN, Pease Park is also seeing a spike in usage — triple the five-year average.

“We know green spaces in general are playing a critical role in how the community sort of moves and navigates this in a healthy way,” he said. “Public green spaces are some of the last places where people can go and be together, and it’s safe.”

To help those families stay safe while participating in outdoor activities, the Austin Foundation for Architecture partnered with the City of Austin to create public art that also helps to remind people to stay six feet from others. They’re calling it P A R K S P A C E.

PARKSPACE at Roy G. Guerrero Park (Photo Courtesy Leonid Furmansky)

“It’s hard to know what six feet away is, so this is a really illustrative way to show,” said Ingrid Spencer,
Executive Director of the
Austin Foundation for Architecture.

Each square is eight foot by eight foot, and the squares are painted six feet apart, using eco-friendly turf paint.

They painted Roy G. Guerrero Park in southeast Austin last week. Up next will be Republic Square Wednesday, and Zilker Park Thursday.

“I’ve been spending a lot of time walking, going to parks, and I think this is going to be a really great way for people to interact with each other but stay apart,” said Spencer.

There isn’t a penalty imposed by the city or the park for not staying in these squares. The hope is that people still will do the right thing.

“You can just tell from looking at it how it reinforces the idea of social distancing,” explained Riddles. “We can put all the signage out that you want. You can put content out on social media all day long to try to educate folks. When you do something that’s actually interactive where people are actually in a piece of art and experiencing, while also learning about social distancing, I think that’s the best way to reinforce the message.”

Pease Park PARKSPACE encourages social distancing (Photo Courtesy Gensler)

In April, the Trail Foundation tried making the Hike-and-Bike Trail one way.

“That actually was fairly successful for a while,” said Anderson. “However, as our signage started to disappear, people started to think that rule was lifted so it kind of organically went back to two way traffic. We decided to let that go.”

As thousands of people run, walk and bike on the trail every day, the Trail Foundation is also hoping people will do the right thing.

“What we’re doing now is really encouraging trail etiquette,” Anderson told KXAN. “We really are relying on individuals to use their best, their best intentions, their best knowledge to educate themselves and do the right thing, not just for yourself, but other trail users as well.”

Riddles added, “It’s on us right, as individuals do be responsible.”

PARKSPACE at Pease Park is ready for people to use. However, the City of Austin is closing all parks and nature trails, including the Lady Bird Lake loop, over the 4th of July holiday weekend.

City officials said park rangers will patrol high-traffic areas and respond to 311 calls as staffing allows.

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