Austin's Zilker Park: The Pulse of the City
On every street, along any path, at any hour of the day, people are walking, jogging, biking and pushing strollers. Austin is a city on its feet, and recreation is a high priority. That’s a major reason Zilker Metropolitan Park, located in the heart of the city, is considered Austin’s most-loved park, reflecting the very pulse of the city.
Starting with “Uncle Billy Barton,” one of the early Anglo settlers enticed to the area when Texas was still part of Mexico, the property passed through several owners before Andrew Jackson Zilker bought it in 1907. In 1918, Zilker deeded the natural springs and 35 surrounding acres to the city.
After World War I, Zilker donated an additional 330 acres adjacent to the original plot to a military school with the stipulation that the city would purchase this land for an inflated price of $200,000. Despite the economic depression of the 1930s, a bond election passed. Workers from national relief groups like the Civilian Conservation Corps were brought in to develop the land into Zilker Park.
The 360-acre park is totally integrated into the outdoor life of Austin, offering a variety of facilities, recreational opportunities and events that attract people from all walks of life. One favorite attraction is Barton Springs Pool, a 1,000-foot long natural spring-fed pool in the heart of the park. Swimmers enjoy its constant year-round temperature of 68 degrees, considered chilly by Texas standards. In recent years, the pool has become a magnet for environmental debate because it is home to an endangered salamander species.
Sports enthusiasts make use of the sand volleyball courts and baseball, football, soccer and rugby fields. Canoeing (university rowing teams train here) and kayaking on Lady Bird Lake is a delightful experience. Gardeners love adjacent Zilker Botanical Garden, including the Taniguchi Oriental Garden with waterfalls and ponds, a rose garden, butterfly trail and Xeriscape landscape featuring water-conservation plantings. The March Kite Festival and Christmas Trail of Lights attract thousands each year.
The 10-mile hike and bike trail, which can be accessed at multiple points, is the perfect urban sanctuary. It follows Lady Bird Lake, a downtown branch of the Colorado River that is dammed on both ends, with plenty of soothing scenic spots to relax before resuming exercise.
During the summer the Zilker Hillside Theater hosts concerts ranging from jazz to country (Blues on the Green), as well as summer musical performances and Shakespeare plays. Fall brings the Austin City Limits Music Festival, which is a major contributor to the live music industry’s estimated $1-billion impact on Austin. Year-round concerts and festivals in Zilker enable Austin to actively promote the city’s rhythmic heritage. Favorite sons like Stevie Ray Vaughan (whose statue in Zilker is an Austin icon) and Willie Nelson have boosted the live-music-capital moniker.
Zilker Park embraces the city’s commitment to the environment, sustainability and a healthy way of life. The lifestyle it represents has played a major role in bringing distinctions to Austin including: friendliest people, best walks, prettiest spring, best-looking people, best place for business and careers, best city for singles and best city for relocating families. Spend a day in Zilker enjoying the outdoors or people-watching, and you’ll realize that it’s a microcosm of the entire city.