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2009CriticsOutdoors & Recreation

Best Alternative Country Club
Twin Parks

Disc golfers need a little pampering, too. Deep in the heart of Dripping Springs lie two 18-hole courses, one in the hills and one in the meadow (or the "Parkshire," as it is called), and this gorgeous Hill Country haven also offers mountain biking and paintball, to boot. Let the serenity of the trees counterbalance the intensity of the game, and if you and nine of your friends are really feeling it, why not just stay the night in the loft above the clubhouse? If you and that special someone are really, really feeling it, why not just get married? You can do that at Twin Parks, too.

Twin Parks Country Club, 1111 Hays Country Acres Rd., Dripping Springs, 512/858-2924, www.twinparkscountryclub.com

Best Architectural Orgasm, 1997
LBJ Fountain

Will somebody please fix the LBJ fountain? An entire generation of temporary Austinites (UT kids) stands to miss the frothy majesty of our city's only water-based tribute to our nation's 36th president. And we old timers miss the 120,000 gallons of water pumped at a rate of 75-80 psi. The tension is killing us.

Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum, 2313 Red River, 512/721-0200, www.lbjlib.utexas.edu

Best Coach You've Never Heard Of
Eddie Reese

Reese assumed the role of men's swimming and diving head coach for the Longhorns in 1978 and since then has led the University of Texas to nine NCAA titles and has been named NCAA Coach of the Year eight times! In addition to these exceptional accomplishments, he has served as men's head coach for America's Olympic squad in 1992, 2004, and 2008 and has mentored and trained most all of the big names in USA swimming (too many to name here).

Lee and Joe Jamail Texas Swim Center, MLK & Trinity, 512/471-7771

Best Dejeuner Sur L'Herbe, or Place to Do It Outside, 1995
Mayfield Park & Preserve

The woods are lovely, dark, and deep. Let's get lost. When we want to get lost, we go to Mayfield Park on a weekday afternoon. A blanket; a couple of cool, refreshing beverages; and a companion are all the supplies you need to enjoy the peacocks, ponds, and sun-dappled hiking trails. And if you wish to stray off the trails and explore those woods so lovely, dark, and deep, there will be no witnesses.

Mayfield Park & Preserve, 3505 W. 35th, 512/974-6700, www.cityofaustin.org

Best Hike-and-Bike Trail Less Traveled
Walnut Creek Metropolitan Park

The greenbelt may get all the love, but North Austinites don't mind: They've got a hidden gem in their own backyard. Well, as hidden as 300 acres can be. A former private farm, the Walnut Creek Metropolitan Park boasts the usual park amenities like a playground, a swimming pool, and softball fields, but what really gets our motor running are the 15 miles of trails where mountain bikers, casual hikers, and off-leash pups all happily commingle.

Walnut Creek Park, 12138 N. Lamar, 512/974-6700, www.cityofaustin.org

Best In & Out
Sheraton Austin's Indoor/Outdoor Swimming Pool

The simple things in life are those that give the greatest pleasure: the changing of the seasons, a sincere smile, chocolate-dipped bananas … and indoor/outdoor swimming pools. Sheraton's spacious and inviting basin of chlorinated greatness is shady and great for a lap or two. The change of scenery will keep the swimming adventure all the wetter. "I'm inside! I'm outside! Sky! Ceiling!" For those don't-touch-the-hair-types who cannot live without product, plan on wearing a swim cap, 'cause to break on through to the other side, you must dive all the way under. A rubber divide hugs the surface, leaving no space for the delicate and well-coiffed. Bottoms up!

Sheraton Hotel, 701 E. 11th, 512/478-1111, www.sheratonaustin.com

Best International Sports Ambassadors
Sanya Richards & Trey Hardee

We're more accustomed to a certain bicyclist in this role, but in 2009, two former Longhorn track and field athletes got to the top of the podium. At the world championships in Berlin, Sanya Richards (women's 400 meters) and Trey Hardee (men's decathlon) – both still Austinites – took gold.

Sanya Richards, www.sanyarichards.net

Trey Hardee, www.treyhardee.com

Best New Bike Paths
New Zilker Bike Lanes

Finally, the city added bike lanes on the crowded road through Zilker Park, giving cyclists a safe east-west route south of the river. For commuters and recreational riders alike, the lanes open a whole new dimension in getting from West Austin to Downtown.

Zilker Park, 2100 Barton Springs Rd., 512/974-6700, www.austintexas.gov

Best New Pocket of Green
Sparky Park

A former Austin substation notorious for sparking during thunderstorms gets a makeover, and the North University Neighborhood gets a quirky new park. The transformation took place earlier this year, when a fantastical grotto wall, created by local sculptor Berthold Haas, replaced an existing wall. It's still a work in progress, and while some are calling it a pocket park, we call it a small wonder.

Sparky Park, 3701 Grooms, www.austinparks.org

Best Reason to Juice Up
Alternative Softball League

We're stretching the "BOA" conflict-of-interest rules a bit here, because Chronicle people were among the wizened founders of the ASL in 2008, when five teams recruited from local offbeat businesses (Waterloo Records, Emo's, KOOP Radio, BookPeople, and the Chron) got together for a good-feeling, co-ed league. In one year the league has doubled in size – two divisions, 10 teams – still hewing close to its ideally laid-back, amateur atmosphere, even as the quality of play has gotten more adept and more competitive. No streakers yet this year, no steroids, but plenty of cool, canned beverages, and it's only a running gag that players found not to be under the influence of mind-altering substances are subject to suspension. At the ASL, it's all about playing the game.

Alternative Softball League, www.altsoftball.com

Best Secret Makeout Spot, 1997
Back Parking Lot of ACC's Pinnacle Campus

We probably should not be telling you about this, but if you want to get a smooch on at the end of your date, this place is it. Good parking, lots of sky, and a great view of Downtown Austin. Lip-smacking good.

ACC Pinnacle Campus, 7748 Hwy. 290 W., 512/223-8108, www.austincc.edu

Best Slider
Jared Orenstein

A couple of summers ago, Jared was a 12-year-old at Canyon Vista Middle School, when his mom took him, more or less on a whim, to an open tryout that USA Luge was holding in the 100-degree heat near Fort Worth. He went fast enough to get noticed (because he didn't want to scuff up his new sneakers slowing down, he has said) and got to try out a real sled in Lake Placid, N.Y. Things just began to … ahem … snowball from there: This past February, he won a gold medal at the National Luge Championships in Park City, Utah, and was one of only three males selected to train year-round at the Olympic Training Center in Lake Placid. Now he's withdrawn from Canyon Vista, goes to school at the National Sports Academy, and, as a member of the USA Olympic Luge Junior Development Team, is training to win a spot in the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

Jared "Cowboyslider" Orenstein, www.cowboyslider.blogspot.com

Best Soccer Player
Eddie Johnson, Austin Aztex

Johnson's been the top scorer for the Aztex all season long, and in a year when the team has struggled to find goals, he's been out there hustling every game and providing leadership and a steadying influence on and off the field. At 24, with a background that includes Manchester United and English national youth teams, he might not be with us much longer, but it's a treat while it lasts.

Austin Aztex, 2720 Bee Caves Rd. #220, 512/402-2892, www.austinaztex.com

Best Trainers to Pump You Up!
Glen and the Gang at Anytime Fitness

Okay weight watchers, fat fighters, health nuts, triathlon trainers, and body builders, the trainers at Anytime Fitness have got game. Because it's a small gym (no sweaty smell or overblown pictures of Lance Armstrong talking about his ass), the trainers at Anytime Fitness are given the freedom and ability to train as they please. There's boxing bro-ham Tim Kelly, who's sweet and gentle; Christina Strider, who only looks kind but will work your tush to the tailbone; the only person who listens to techno at six in the morning and loves it, video-training maven Joanne Blackerby; and fitness club co-owner and lover-of-the-reverse-fly Glen Langford. With this kind of tightly knit team of trainers, it's no wonder we feel 10 times better after having stopped by for a sweat!

Anytime Fitness, 3407 Guadalupe, 512/538-0404, www.anytimefitness.com

Best Wilderness Expedition
Cook's Canoes

Canoeing on the pretty and still unspoiled Lower Colorado River between Austin and Bastrop is a great family expedition – especially the easy five-mile run between Little Webberville Park and Big Webberville Park. Salt-of-the-earth outfitter Cook's Canoes rents canoes for 2-3 people for $40 a day and kayaks for $30 a day. The price includes life jackets and a ride back at the end. Bring a cooler and picnic, see egrets and blue herons, take a swim, and reconnect with nature and one another. Overnight camping and group rates are available too.

Cook's Canoes, 1004 Water St., Webberville, 512/276-7767, www.cookscanoes.com

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