by Glee Ingram

Sasha

We came into being due to the love of a dog and the lack of a fence. Those variables translated into daily walks in the neighborhood with the dog, and the discovery of the Homedale entry into the Barton Creek Greenbelt.

It was a bit like Alice in Wonderland, finding this lovely natural Hill Country landscape with the episodically flowing creek. For someone who grew up on a dry land farm during the midst of the great drought, this was paradise. But it was a paradise that was experiencing neglect and occasional abuse. My professional landscaper eyes saw the intrusions of invasive foreign plants, and drainage and erosion challenges to the dirt trails, and trash, and even old car disposals.

I began inquiring at the Austin Parks Department to see if and how volunteers might participate in maintaining the trails, and worked with then BHNA President Robin McKeever to establish how we might engage our neighborhood in the work required. She suggested that we set up a committee under the Neighborhood Association that would organize and oversee volunteer greenbelt trail work days. That committee became the Greenbelt Guardians.

We worked with The City of Austin Parks Department to set up a formal adoption agreement in March of 2003, for the sections of the greenbelt that fall within the Barton Hills neighborhood: from the Zilker park trail entry starting below the Barton Creek dam, to the Homedale and Spyglass entry trails, to the Gus Fruh entry trail ending at the Highway 360 trail entry.

For two years we had small work days with volunteers recruited through our Barton Hills Neighborhood Association website and newsletter. A steady core of dedicated volunteers showed up, and became the leadership team of our quarterly workdays. In 2005, we got a small grant and began working as a park adopter under the fiduciary umbrella of the Austin Parks Foundation, which offered small grants to groups that engaged in park improvements.

Since that time, we have been fortunate to obtain grant funds from some private donors for habitat restoration, plus a grant from TCEQ (Texas Center for Environmental Quality). We have also collaborated with the Austin Parks Foundation on the execution of privately funded activities to improve environmental integrity and trail improvement activities.

As the city has grown, so has the use of the greenbelt, as a refuge from urban stresses. In response to these pressures, a larger, collaborative response has been created to assure that our precious greenbelt and publicly accessible natural lands are protected. More information to come in our next newsletter about the larger collaborative efforts for expanding and managing what is known as the Violet Crown Trail.

After a slow start in 2017, the Greenbelt Guardians had a busy fall.  We only held one workday between January and September (It’s My Park Day in March), but made up for it with three workdays at the end of the year.  A fourth workday was cancelled due to bad weather.  Here’s a brief summary of what we accomplished:

On Saturday Sept 30th, National Public Lands Day, 19 volunteers contributed a total of 66 hours of labor at the Gus Fruh access.  Major tasks included invasives removal and the completion of the rock steps leading down to the creek on the east side.

On Saturday November 4th, the Austin Parks Foundation's fall "It's My Park Day", we had 50 volunteers who contributed a total of 142 hours of labor at the Homedale entrance.  Major tasks were invasives removal, graffiti removal, and rock work in the gully by the bridge and where the trail ends at the flats.

On Friday December 8th, we were supposed to host a group of 20 volunteers from Apple for a service day at Gus Fruh, but the snow the night before caused it to be postponed.  That workday was part of a larger Apple service project organized by the Hill Country Conservancy.  It has been rescheduled for Thursday February 22nd.

On Saturday December 9th, we worked with Barton Hills neighbor and Austin High School senior Jude Sabo and a group of his classmates who organized a service project at Gus Fruh.  17 volunteers put in a total of 50 hours of labor and did a great job of refurbishing and extending the steps that exit the creek bed on the far (west) side.

Our next regular workday will be on Saturday March 03, APF’s spring “It’s My Park Day”.  No matter your age or physical ability, there’s always something you can do to help, so please make plans to join us!  We’ll announce the location and how to sign up soon.

Ken Russell

On a sad note, we lost one of our long-time volunteers and a big part of our Greenbelt Guardian family, Ken Russell, on December 4th.  Ken and his wife Rosalie started working with us in 2005, shortly after moving to Barton Hills, and they quickly became regulars and leaders.  While Rosalie liked to pull out invasives, Ken seemed to prefer the engineering side of things, usually working on trail repair or on one of our many rock projects.  He became our resident expert in the proper mixing of mortar, and either performed or oversaw that task almost every time we did any rock work.  He was also good at working the registration table and greeting volunteers. We will miss not only his contributions to our work, but also the stories, jokes, knowledge, and enthusiasm that he shared so freely with everyone around him.

Here are a few photos of Ken working with us over the years.

 

We had 50 neighborhood and community volunteers who contributed a total of 142 hours of labor at the Homedale entrance to the Barton Creek Greenbelt on Saturday November 4th, the Austin Parks Foundation's fall "It's My Park Day."  We had a great group and got a lot done, but we especially enjoyed working with all the kids and young adults who attended, including cub scouts, girl scouts, a group from the UT Taiwanese American Student Association, and some skilled and hard-working teens from Barton Hills. We were also honored to have our District 5 City Councilmember and neighbor Ann Kitchen join us to greet everyone, talk to a number of folks about greenbelt-related issues, and observe our work.

As always, we started the morning off with breakfast tacos from Maria's, courtesy of the Barton Hills Neighborhood Association.  Warmer than normal temps and high humidity made working conditions somewhat unpleasant, but a little bit of recent rain did help soften up the soil surface enough to make trail work and invasives removal a little easier.

Our invasive team pulled lots of ligustrum and nandina in an area on the south side of the flats.  They also gathered and replanted native sea oat seeds everywhere that the soil was disturbed.

Another team harvested gravel and large stones from the creek bed and used them to build some shallow steps on the sloped part of the trail that empties out onto the flats, an area that used to get muddy and slick very quickly when there was water in the creek and lots of wet people and dogs.  There's a little more work to do there on another workday, but the problem has been largely remedied already, and we were able to stockpile the materials (gravel and stones) that we need to finish.

We also continued our rock work in the gully with the small bridge on the trail leading to the flats, collecting stones and then fitting and mortaring them into place to prevent erosion and damage to the bridge supports.

Other accomplishments included clean-up and weeding of the entry trail, graffiti removal, and the collection of a large amount of trash.  Some photos from the workday are on our website here.

Thanks to everyone who came out to help us!  It was a good crew and we had another very productive day on the greenbelt.