Outdoors & Recreation
2011 Readers Poll
2011 Critics Picks

courtesy of Mark Fagan

Best 'Take One for the Team'

Our own proofer Kristine Tofte is always a shiner – like a diamond – but that description became doubly appropriate when, during the Chronicle's Alternative Softball League season closer against KOOP, she caught a scorcher thrown to home … with her face. Ever the good sport, Tofte came to work the next day with a Technicolor eye, extensive photo documentation of the shifting shades of her face, and yes, a winning smile.

Alternative Softball League

Best Banked-Track Battlers

How many sports can you name where a bout can get settled on skates or with a pillow fight? The original banked-track Roller Derby revivalists have kept some of that Seventies sass in their sport. And yes, they still have Spank Alley.

TXRD Lonestar Rollergirls

courtesy of Earl McGehee

Best Bats & Burgers

Almost as soon as the rails were pulled up in 1942, bats moved into the old railroad tunnel just south of Fredericksburg on Old San Antonio Road. Millions of bats make the tunnel their home in the summer, and they emerge nightly from the tunnel to feed from the smallest wildlife management area in the state parks system. And every year, between May and October, humans come to witness this ritual … and to feed as well. Within walking distance from the tunnel is one of the best burger joints in the state. Alamo Springs Cafe has a wide selection of delectable Texas entrées so you won’t have to go searching in the night for a diet of bugs like the bats.

Old Tunnel Wildlife Management Area

Alamo Springs Cafe
107 Alamo Rd.

Best Circus Arts Revivalists

They may fly through the air, but it isn't with the greatest of ease. Aerial dancers practice and perform a difficult skill every time they climb up the swaths of cloth that take their dance to a truly three-dimensional level. Austinites are recognizing the beauty, as well as the workout. Sky Candy offers classes based on a variety of traditional midair forms: trapeze, silks, ropes, and more. It also hosts performances and offers booking for private events. Whether you're fortunate enough to witness the professionals work or are simply interested in tightening your abs by trying the gravity-defying maneuvers yourself, Sky Candy has a sweet choice for you.

Sky Candy
1023 Springdale Ste. 8-A

Bret Brookshire

Best Fantasy Fitness

In the immortal words of T Pain, "I'm in love with a [pole dancer]." In fact, we're in love with the whole Brass Ovaries crew! In addition to performing around town, this group of lovely dancers teaches pole fitness classes, a provocative and fun way for men and women of all sizes and abilities to get in shape. They offer group classes and private lessons and even private pole parties for special events. Hubba-hubba … or, as T Pain would say, "I'm on a boat!"

Brass Ovaries Studio
6039 N. IH-35

Best Folks for Different Strokes

When most people think of rowing, the image that comes to mind is some version of crew champions the "Winklevii," The Social Network's clever moniker for the ultra-WASPy, ultraprivileged Winklevoss twins who sued Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg. The folks at Row AustinTX want you to forget about all that; they aim to get all kinds of people out on the water. Working with schools, businesses, and individuals, they offer affordable, accessible rowing programs. In Row AustinTX's brief existence, it's made serious inroads, training scads of kids who would not otherwise have access to the sport, working with Camp Mabry soldiers, and transitioning new rowers into competitive teams on full scholarships. Now they're about to launch afterschool programs with the Boys and Girls Clubs and Mendez Middle School. All smack-dab in the middle of the ATX. It's not the Charles; it might be even better.

Row AustinTX

Bret Brookshire

Best Guardians of the Green

You wouldn't know the keepers of Austin's parks from your neighbors, but you'd miss them if they were gone. APF braves triple-digit heat, rain, and the odd cold snap to make up the difference between what the city can afford and what the parks need – all for the love of it, and all gratis. Coordinating volunteers, fundraising, and donating countless hours to keep our parks up to par is never a thankless gig when the reward is keeping Austin Austin.

Austin Parks Foundation
507 Calles #116

Best Holiday Light Trail

Between the city canceling the annual Trail of Lights at Zilker last year and the slow dim of the 37th Street Lights, the holidays have been a bit more humbug these past few years in Austin. Well, fret not, Santa Pants, the Límon clan of East Austin may put the twinkle back in your eye. The Límons have been in Austin since 1889, with the arrival of one dude and his brood. A century and a quarter later, the Límons number in the 2,000s. (Their family reunion last year shut down all of Webberville Park.) So when this crew wants to celebrate the winter holidays with lights, they do it big. Like the Visitation big. Like Hark the Freakin' Herald Angels big. Calle Límon, between Springdale and Airport, is named for the family and – surprise! – is loaded with Límons. Each year, beginning in late November through early January, the fam seems to try to outdo one another in the decorations department. Joy! So, swaddle the babes, roast some chestnuts, pack up the car, and take a drive to your own personal homegrown holiday light show. For tunes, might we recommend popping in a little Little Joe y la (what else?) Fammmmmiiiiiliaaaaaa!

Best Movement Movement

One, two, three … one, two, three. Feel like your two left feet can't possibly cut a rug? This nonprofit Eastside dance studio will fix that right up and get you moving. Tango, samba, salsa – pick your poison. Aerobics, yoga, film screenings, cookouts, and Hula-Hoop classes are on the menu as well. Above and beyond the trappings of a typical dance studio, EsquinaTango has become a bona fide Eastside cultural movement.

Best Party With the Stars – North

It isn't often that the public gets to look through a research-quality telescope, but once a month during the academic year Fountainwood Observatory holds free star parties, and you're invited. Attendees are guided through the night skies with Southwestern University faculty and students, as well as members of the Williamson County Astronomy Club.

Fountainwood Observatory
Southwestern University, 1001 E. University Ave.

Jana Birchum

Best Place To 'Focus One Point and Breathe'

What is it about bridges that makes them the perfect place to practice the art of doing nothing? Maybe it's the neither-here-nor-there feeling or the proximity to water. The James D. Pfluger Bicycle Pedestrian Bridge is Austin's answer to this European classic. If you go at dusk, it is flanked by the sunset on one side and the city skyline on the other, and it's populated by lingering hike-and-bikers, families, and a few sociable wanderers. If you stay on after dark, you just might catch a guerrilla rock show plugged in under the lamp light. As suggested by the graffiti visible to the east, go ahead and "focus one point and breathe."

Pfluger Pedestrian Bridge
Lamar & Riverside

Best Plant Sale

From March through May, the Future Farmers of America at Akins High School have a sale of the plants they've raised. Ripe for spring planting, these hand-nurtured little upstarts are only $1 each. The stock changes regularly during the course of the sale, and some things sell out faster than others, but you'll always find something you want. Herbs include basil, chives, cilantro, and lavender; flowers include delphinium, hollyhocks, morning glories, and poppies; and vegetables include squash, eggplant, and tomatoes, among others. Buy one or buy an entire rack. Not only are you getting fine plants dirt cheap, but you're helping a fine organization. Everyone wins.

Akins High School Greenhouse
10701 S. First

Best Pre-Dawn Sweat

Personal trainer Jake Bellonzi conducts his labor of love morning boot camp each day from 6 to 7am right across the street from St. Edward's University for professionals who don't have the means to indulge in expensive alternatives. Never caustic or overly severe, Bellonzi takes a helpful, supportive approach to the art of fitness. With the rise of boot camp popularity in Austin, plan ahead and click through the Train With Jake website to learn about training packages and fill out an online assessment.

Train With Jake

Best Sweat Into Sweet Relief

Every day, people jog for fitness, run for exercise, and race for glory. Once a year, Austinites run for the water. Benefiting the Gazelle Foundation since 2007, the Run for the Water 10-mile, 5K, and kids' runs have matched runners with water donations, providing access to clean water for life to more than 8,000 Burundians. For life. That’s a one-on-one match for runner to recipient and a race everyone can feel good about.

Gazelle Foundation
420 W. Riverside

Best Way To Put the Pep in Your Step

Let's face it: Staying fit is hard work – procrastination, beer, late nights, and queso can wreak havoc on the human machine. But there is a way to overcome fitness inertia: personal trainer Marla Davis. She's a firecracker, full of energy. She's sweet, but she won't let you get away before doing a full three sets, so don't even ask! Maybe you don't need a kick off the couch (she gives a great kick, btw) but are simply looking for a way to take your workout to the next level. Look no further than Davis, who offers kickass, ass-kicking workouts for folks at all fitness levels.

Pathway to Fitness, 4009 Medical Pkwy.

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