Feature Article: Austin Outdoors Issue
For more than a century, Pease Park has offered Central Austinites a respite in the middle of a bustling city. Today, the Pease Park Conservancy is working to ensure Austin’s oldest park remains protected and a vital part of our community.
Rush hour traffic approaching downtown on North Lamar Boulevard can be excruciating, but Pease Park Conservancy Development Coordinator Tim Eischen has a solution: “If there’s traffic, I just park and walk down by Shoal Creek and get lost in the wilderness. Then by the time I get back to my truck, traffic has died down and I’m in a better place.”
Extending from 15th to 31st Streets, the 83 acres that comprise Pease Park and the Shoal Creek Greenbelt have been an antidote to mental gridlock since before the arrival of the automobile. The land surrounding the live oak-canopied creek banks was gifted to the state by Governor Pease in 1875, christened the home of Eeyore’s Birthday in 1974, and has maintained its natural woodland character for over a century thanks to a combination of public and private stewardship.
The latest champion to take up the cause is the Pease Park Conservancy (PPC). Originally called Trees for Pease, the group formed in 2008 with the mission of combating drought and invasive species. They have since planted a staggering 2,500 trees, enriching the area with live oak, cedar elms and Ashe juniper — and that’s just the beginning.
Armed with an elaborate, 219-page master plan unanimously approved by Austin City Council in October 2014, PPC plans on making improvements to nearly every corner of the park. From renovating the quaint brick Tudor Cottage at the south end (designed by Austin firm Gisecke & Harris) to creating a civic gateway with an overlook point at the 29th Street entrance, to revitalizing the canopy and creek everywhere in between, the long-term initiatives in the master plan increase the park’s functionality and protect an ecosystem that had decayed dangerously close to the point of no return.
PLANS FORTUDOR COTTAGE
“There is a great opportunity to turn the Tudor Cottage into an iconic community gathering space,” explains PPC Executive Director Andy Gill.
• Outdoor seating
• Renovations to the historic limestone walls
• New terraces
The undertaking will be financed by a combination of grants, city funding and private donations, with an estimated total cost ranging between $20 – 40 million. It’s a huge figure, but only about 10 percent of other Austin public works project like Waller Creek. “Waller Creek has received a lot of attention lately, but I would argue that the Shoal Creek Greenbelt and Pease Park are equally important,” says Richard Craig, chair of the Conservancy. “The population density in West Campus is comparable to San Francisco in number of people per acre, and the park is the only natural recreational outlet for the university community.” Recognizing its proximity, UT has also taken up stewardship of Pease Park, sending out dozens of students every weekend to traverse the trails and pick up trash.
In addition to university volunteers, Conservancy staff including Eischen and Andrew Gill, and donors, the other major players in the Pease Park development are Clayton & Little and RVi Planning, a pair of architecture and landscape firms contracted to bring the master plan to life. Both firms are excited at the opportunity to make a lasting mark on one of Austin’s most important natural corridors and emphasize both the practical uses and historical elements.
It’s easy to forget that Pease’s trails extend all the way to Barton Springs, offering a scenic route to beat traffic and parking. “Pease Park is like the spine that runs up through the center of Austin,” says Clayton & Little architect Emily Little. Even some of the backbone elements of the park hold historical significance, for example the long concrete picnic tables were built in the 1930s as part of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps initiative.
Equal parts transportation corridor to Barton Springs, wilderness preserve, recreation area and soft patch of grass for a drum circle, in many ways restoring Pease Park means restoring the beating heart of Central Austin. “My personal favorite thing is seeing the way that a very broad spectrum of people use the park and just the location of it. It’s on the edge of one of the oldest, most exclusive neighborhoods, but on the other edge it’s the home of Eeyore’s,” says Patrick Smith of RVi Planning. “There’s that Keep Austin Weird feel to it.”
Read more from the Outdoors Issue | May 2016