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Austin Parks Foundation Marks 30 Years with Strong Foundation for the Future

As the city continues to grow and evolve, the nonprofit engages the community and raises awareness for local parks

Downtown views alongside a massive playground with slides banked into hills. A climbing activity for older children that’s three stories tall, as younger children cool off in a splashpad, enjoy a massive swing set or get creative in a sandbox. These are just some of the features in the new Alliance Children’s Garden that opened in Butler Park, located right off the shores of Lady Bird Lake on Barton Springs Road.

“Seeing my children enjoy this new space makes me thankful to be an Austinite!” says Jackie Rylander, mother of two active and young boys, with twin girls on the way. “The children’s garden is perfect for every age.” Another new project, EastLink Trail, connects Bartholomew Park to the Boggy Creek Greenbelt. Parks and schools exist right off the trail, and the area is expected to get a lot of foot traffic.

MORE: A List of Our Favorite Neighborhood Parks in Austin

With 369 parks currently, the foundation takes an active approach in engaging neighborhoods. Going door-to-door and hosting engagement sessions allows Austinites to voice preferences on park designs, with kids also having a voice about their next playgrounds. Past trends called for things like ziplines. But now, there’s an increased focus on safety and a little minimalism.

“Nature play is really big these days. Building elements where kids can sort of interact with nature and the play equipment feels more like logs and treehouses,” explains Collin Wallis, CEO of Austin Parks Foundation. “Children can take different pieces of wood and move them around and create things. It’s a much more natural experience as opposed to climbing metal structures.”

Packed with a variety of activities and tucked into neighborhoods off Riverside, Roy G. Guerrero Park provides a variety of fitness opportunities. A giant disc golf course, mountain bike trails, running trails, playgrounds and ample open space help fill 600-700 acres of space, including the Austin’s Secret Beach.

“It’s just a really cool space, and its access route is sort of protected,” says Wallis. “Once you are there you feel like you are in this other world. There’s a massive field and you can see some of the buildings downtown.”

Austin’s tiniest park is just south of the Capitol. Located on Congress Avenue, it’s easy to walk by and not realize it’s a park. Officially called Old Bakery, there’s a small food trailer that serves Thai food.

Bicycle motocross (BMX) is another unique feature of a lesser-known and maybe unofficial park at 9th street and Lamar. Once a so-called throwaway space in a flood plain, decades ago people started to build dirt jumps.

MORE: 6 Adrenaline-Inducing Activities in Austin

“For the last 30 years, the guys who do jumps there have owned the area, and it’s literally gone from a headache, to now being embraced as a world-renown space,” says Wallis. “The people that use the park take care of it, and they are the ones building the jumps and repairing spaces and even investing their own money in the space.”

New projects are also in the works. The Austin Parks Foundation recently funded a grant at Highland Neighborhood Park off St. Johns to build a bridge so the neighborhood can access the park.

Another project involves a massive playscape at Govalle Park in East Austin. Already with a massive pool, city organizers want to add in the playground to complement the beginning of Southern Creek Walnut trail, which runs around 11 miles out to the expo center. Expansions are a welcome change for growing families within Austin, who’ve used the parks to get out of the house during the last two years of the pandemic.

“We especially love the old historic parks like Zilker, Bull Creek, Ramsey and Pease parks,” says Rylander. “We meet wonderful families, and we enjoy Austin’s well-kept, natural spaces. We’ve frequented parks almost every day.”

The Austin Parks Foundation celebrates its 30th anniversary this year and plans to continue to raise awareness for local parks for the next 30 years.

“It’s really up to us to make sure we are committed to our local parks, and how can we help as citizens?” says Wallis. “How can I not only enjoy my neighborhood park, but what can I do to improve the park?”

Activating, engaging, and investing in parks, the foundation has several volunteer projects coming up — along with the return of some popular activities, including Movies in the Park, in partnership with Rocket Cinema.