Public Notice: Rewilding Zilker Park

How do you polish a crown jewel?

We've written before, both here and elsewhere, about the Zilker Park Vision Plan process that's being conducted by the city's Parks and Recreation Department. Well, Community Meeting #3 is coming up Tues­day, where the public will get its much anticipated first look at some proposed "design concepts" that have been prepared by the city's consultants and project team, incorporating feedback from the first two meetings and other outreach. They're "eager to review various ideas and possibilities with community members. The meeting is designed to be interactive and will include live polling, Q&A, and discussion."

Expect a lively time, because while everyone loves this crown jewel of the parks system, there are lots of different ideas about how that jewel should be polished.

One side of that discussion will be anchored firmly in a document released just today by the Save Our Springs Alli­ance and Zilker Neighborhood Assoc­i­ation. Rewilding Zilker Park is a vision plan for returning more of the park to a natural state – mostly reforestation, but also other vegetation and erosion controls, reduced parking and mowing, plus a process known as phytoremediation for the former Butler Landfill near MoPac, to transform it from a caliche parking lot to a riverside forest.

The 61-page document includes a lot of background information, not all of which is available in the city's own 92-page Vision Plan. It's an ambitious proposal. Noting that "82% of Zilker Park survey respondents supported expanding natural areas in the park," the plan concludes that "At least 75 acres of Zilker Park's 350 acres should be rewilded ... Rewilded areas will include a mix of forests with meadows, open woodlands, and savanna wetlands to accommodate different soils, slopes, and everyday park needs." Much of this is in currently underutilized areas – some of which have already been rewilded by volunteer efforts – but the most visible change would be a ring of "wild" forestland and unmowed woodlands ringing the Great Lawn. This would allow for the current mix of picnicking, pick-up sports, and smaller events, but between that and the proposal to revegetate the landfill/parking lot, it's clear that the ACL Festival, for one, "would have to adjust quite a bit," as SOS's Bill Bunch put it in an email to the Chronicle.

But that's an adjustment ACL may be facing to some degree in any case. Not to single them out, but it's clear that the issue of commercialization of parkland has become a central question in park planning: How do you balance the value of a world-class music festival, with the value of "nature, trails, and water features"? Zilker NA's Robin Rather framed the dilemma succinctly in another email, "ACL is so important from a cultural and economic standpoint and has tried hard to economically support PARD from its profits. We are grateful for that. The cost to Zilker itself is deeply disturbing from an ecological standpoint."

PARD's Community Meeting #3 is Tuesday, Oct. 19, at 6pm on Zoom and Facebook Live; you can register and get info at ASL and Spanish interpretation will be provided, and a recording will be available afterward on the project website.

[Ed. Note: This story originally referred to "the capped Butler Landfill" near the MoPac bridge underpass. The former landfill is not in fact capped; my apologies for the error.]

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