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2007CriticsOutdoors & Recreation

Best 'Twofer' in the Great Outdoors
Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center and the Veloway

True, it’s not a 10-mile hike in a ravishing wilderness, but if you have an interest in native flora and enjoy exercise out-of-doors, a trip to La Crosse Avenue is definitely worth your time. Explore the beautiful trails and gardens of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildlife Center; enjoy refreshments in the center’s cafe or picnic areas; then head across the road to skate the Veloway, a 3.17-mile, paved track that is reserved for biking and Rollerblading. La Crosse is also a popular starting point for road biking to paved nether reaches beyond. Inexpensive and close to home, what a great day in the great outdoors.

Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, 4801 La Crosse, 512/232-0100, www.wildflower.org

Veloway, 4900 La Crosse, 512/974-6700, www.cityofaustin.org/bicycle

Best Batter Up
Putt-n-Funn

Angsty? Lover getting you down? Picturing your fist through a few layers of drywall? Settle down, tiger. Fire your therapist, burn a rockin' mix for your ear buds, and head to Round Rock. One dollar delivers a musty helmet, an aluminum bat, and 16 fire-rocket pitches from a mechanical wizard to swing batta-batta swing! Aggression never had it so good. Be your own Hank Aaron (cause who wants that Barry Bonds asterisk?), and hear the crowds roar! Batting cages are your bruised ego's best friend.

Putt N Funn Zone, 301 Chisholm Trail, Round Rock, 512/255-3866, www.puttnfunn.com

Best Deep Water Start Without a Boat
Texas Ski Ranch

photo by Sandy Carson

This 70-acre lake-sports megaplex is one of a kind in Texas, with the muscle to pull wakeboarders, knee boarders, and water-skiers on the only man-made cable-way lake around. This affordable wet getaway is stocked to keep you stoked with a restaurant, bar, its own skateboard park, climbing wall, motocross course, lessons, competitions, and oh so much more. You can even kick back and simply soak up the sun on the beach for a mere $5 a day.

Texas Ski Ranch, 6700 N. I-35, New Braunfels, 830/627-2843, www.texasskiranch.com

Best Garden to Sit and Watch the Skyscrapers Grow
Republic Square Park

Nowhere in Downtown is the soil more fecund than near Republic Square Park, and it won't be long before the park's longest shadows aren't cast by its trees. Strange photosynthesis happens here, as if chlorophyll fused with glass and steel and cement and electricity to create structures that burst through the canopy. The 360 Condominiums, the Monarch, and the Spring Condominiums have begun rising to the east; the AMLI is blooming to the south; and soon the Austonian, MetLife building, and proposed Tom Stacy high-rise to the east will make the Frost Tower look like a shrub.

Republic Square Park, 422 Guadalupe, 512/974-6700, www.cityofaustin.org/downtown/republicsq.htm

Best Hole
Blue Hole, Wimberley

photo by Sandy Carson

Since the 1920s, Central Texans have been enjoying the cool clear waters of Cypress Creek, hidden in a small canyon on the edge of Wimberley. Often included on lists of the best swimming holes in Texas, this section of the tree-lined creek is best known for its Norman Rockwell-esque rope swings and family atmosphere. If not for the efforts of local residents, Blue Hole would have gone under a developer’s bulldozer. In 2005, the village of 3,000 raised the $3 million to buy the 126-acre tract as a regional park for the entire state to enjoy. Open Memorial Day through Labor Day.

Blue Hole Regional Park, Northeast of Wimberley off FM 3237, past the church and cemetery., Blue Hole, www.friendsofbluehole.org

Best New Recruit
Gail Goestenkors

photo by Sandy Carson

Who better to fill the empty Nikes of coaching legend Jody Conradt than this Blue Devil-turned-Lady Longhorn? Goestenkors – Coach G, for short – is suited up to lead her first season with the UT women's basketball team, after taking Duke's formidable b-ball ladies to 13 consecutive NCAA tournaments. The Lady Longhorns open the season Nov. 1 with an exhibition game against Trinity.

Gail Goestenkors, UT Women's Basketball, Frank Erwin Center, 1701 Red River, www.texassports.com

Best Park in Need of a Champion
Wooldridge Square Park

Won’t someone adopt this historic 1839 public square? To realize its potential as a stellar Downtown people space, Wooldridge Square needs a leading champion or two – and lots of stakeholders – who can devote time, resources, and powers of persuasion to rally a major park renovation and raise $500,000 to fund it. Revitalizing this heritage park – one of four included in Austin's original layout, although only three survive: Republic, Brush, and Wooldridge – offers a swell legacy opportunity for some lad or lady of leisure, and so much more satisfying than redoing the kitchen. Apply to the Austin Parks Foundation.

Wooldridge Square Park, 900 Guadalupe, 512/477-1566, www.austinparks.org

Best Public Gym Run out of a Garage
Harmon Street Gym

The first thing you’ll notice about the Harmon Street Gym is the roof: a myriad of nylon beer signs fashioned into a canopy over the second-story, open-air boxing facility. What you see is far from what you’ll get. Transformed from a multicar garage into a tough guy’s (and gal’s) dream come true, don’t expect frills – or even air conditioning – but that’s the idea. They’re tough sonsabitches, with a kinda “I’ll run the asthma outta ya!” mentality. Come willing to work hard because if you’re expecting smoothies and sympathy or a kiss-it-and-make-it-better attitude, perhaps you should just stay on the couch.

Harmon Street Gym, 4707 Harmon, 512/467-8029

Best Stroll in the Woods
Enchanted Forest

From busy city street to calm, otherworldly nature, people who find themselves at Enchanted Forest must feel they've stepped through a portal to another time and place. Time slows, the air seems cleaner, and wonder awaits around every corner. Home and host to Austin's beloved Art Outside series (returning in March ’08), the Forest also features an annual weeklong Halloween/fire-spinning party Demons & Dames, as well as burlesque, art shows, and concerts throughout the year. Go for a walk in these 3 acres of woods; you never know what you'll find.

The Enchanted Forest, 1412 W. Oltorf, 512/296-1866, www.austinenchantedforest.com

Best Way to Avoid Dysentery While Enjoying Björk
Hand-Sanitizing Stations at ACL Fest

It's that age-old dilemma that comes with outdoor concerts: How do you drink enough to stay hydrated, but not so much that you have to interact with nasty portable toilets? And then, inevitably, have to eat some sort of stand food with your hands? Imagine our delight each year in rediscovering that the Austin City Limits Fest thoughtfully provides sanitizer dispensers outside their (actually not so nasty, and abundant) potties. Bring on the chili dogs (then Björk)!

C3 Presents, 98 San Jacinto #400, 512/478-7211, www.c3presents.com

Best Way to Outrace the Herd
Gilbert's Gazelles

Wonder if you have what it takes to be a runner? The kind who runs, rain, shine, or ridiculous heat, around that gorgeous lake of ours? Gilbert Tuhabonye, Burundi native and former NCAA all-American champion runner, knows exactly how to move you – from deep within your soul and from deep within your soles. With his Gazelles training programs, heralded by hundreds of former and current students, the fundamentals of unlocking the runner in each of us are unlocked. Whether the only run you're used to making is a beer run or you have your eyes set on the Ironman, Gilbert's programs have quickly become Austin's premier source for training.

Gilbert's Gazelles, 512/247-8980, www.gilbertsgazelles.com

Best Wheeling It Back Home
Texas Rollergirls

The Women’s Flat Track Derby Association national championships, held here in September, didn’t just roll in to town. It came back to the city and to the women of the Texas Rollergirls that birthed the modern Roller Derby revolution. The eight regional teams were the best of the best from the 43 affiliated local leagues around the country, and while Texas didn't win, the real victory was that so many players and fans came. The DIY ethic that any flat surface can be a track originated with the sweat and bruises of the original Texecutioners, and they lit a fire that is inspiring a generation of rough-and-tumble young women.

Texas Rollergirls, www.texasrollergirls.org

Best-Kept Secret Run Challenge
Springdale Road

Ever get sick of the running trails, the high school tracks, the campus sidewalks? We certainly do. And don’t think for a New York minute you have to take the beaten path. What say you, Mr. Frost? “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I – I took the one less traveled by.” Thanks, Bob. So which road are we talking about? Springdale Road. Hell, if you manage the 5-mile stretch from 51st to Cesar Chavez, you’ll trek everything from the middle of the road to Mr. Catfish’s front steps to the railway tracks before you find a sidewalk. The cars won’t give you much room to breathe, and the macadam reflects the noonday sun enough to make you think you’re running on a skillet. But hey, if it were easy, everyone would do it!

Dreamiest Field
Monroe E. 'Lefty' Krieg Softball & Athletic Complex

It's true that the Chronicle currently boasts a 6-2 record at Krieg against the likes of BookPeople, Waterloo Records, KOOP Radio, and South by Southwest, but we'd love the place even if we weren't the best softball team in town. There's pickup soccer and flag football, a snow-cone stand, a tower where the Fire Department practices saving lives, and a helpful Parks and Rec staff. We've even heard tell of a bachelor party that took place there, complete with cheerleaders and barbecue. Folks, America is Krieg Fields – all dozen of ’em – and Krieg Fields is America.

Monroe E. "Lefty" Krieg Softball and Athletic Complex, 515 S. Pleasant Valley, 512/445-6003, www.ci.austin.tx.us/parks/athletics.htm

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