Trash, bad be­hav­ior be­foul beauty of Bull Creek Park

Parks depart­ment and po­lice can’t keep up with pop­u­lar­ity

Austin American-Statesman - - METRO &STATE - By Ri­cardo Gán­dara amer­i­can-states­man staFF

In the early 1960s, Lake­wood Park, with its bal­cony­like lime­stone shelves jut­ting into the canyon, was pri­vately owned by Mor­ris and Der­rell Moore. Peo­ple paid 25 cents to fish, swim, sun­bathe and ride horses in the 40-acre park and Bull Creek, which runs through it.

The pic­turesque land­scape re­mains un­changed in what is now called Bull Creek Park and Green­belt at RM 2222 and Loop 360, but now it’s free to all to en­joy. The city bought the prop­erty in 1979.

Peo­ple still come in droves on week­ends to pic­nic, play with their dogs and en­joy the con­stant-flow creek, which is fed by nat­u­ral springs in the north­ern Ed­wards Aquifer.

Pa­trick Bar­low, 27, wasn’t around dur­ing the glory days of Lake­wood Park, but what he sees to­day dis­gusts him.

“It’s the trash. This park closed last year

be­cause of the dog prob­lem. Too much fe­cal mat­ter in the wa­ter,” said Bar­low, a for­mer Ma­rine and com­bat vet­eran in Iraq.

He walks his two Great Danes, Cratos and Chloe, in the park.

“The park has now been taken over by peo­ple who are do­ing more dam­age to the parks than any­thing the dogs could do. I have seen peo­ple uri­nat­ing and at­tempt­ing to defe­cate in or near the wa­ter. I have got­ten into two sep­a­rate ar­gu­ments with peo­ple who have driven their cars into the mid­dle of the creek and pulled out a bucket and soap and be­gun to wash their cars,” he said.

Bar­low said he’s called 311 sev­eral times since May and has been trans­ferred to the Austin Po­lice Depart­ment. “We’d wait for APD to show up, but they never did,” he said.

States­man Watch spent sev­eral hours at the park last week­end and con­firmed Bar­low’s com­plaints, ex­cept for wash­ing of cars in the creek. The un­der­staffed Parks and Recre­ation Depart­ment did make it out to empty trash cans, but the rest of the park was strewn with food wrap­pers, beer bot­tles and cans, cig­a­rette butts, di­a­pers and even spent char­coal.

On Satur­day af­ter­noon, a large fam­ily held a birth­day party for a child. The next morn­ing, beer cans, candy wrap­pers and an El Ran­cho Su­per­me­r­cado plas­tic bag of trash were left be­hind. Near the creek, three Bud­weiser bot­tles, an empty pack of Kool 100s and orange peel­ings were left where a trio of men with an ice chest had been the af­ter­noon be­fore.

On week­ends, with lit­tle or no po­lice pres­ence, park users cart ice chests, grills and pic­nic ta­bles and set up next to the wa­ter. Chil­dren swim by. Refuse lit­ters the ground even though trash cans are a few feet away.

“How can you walk away from this?” asked Va­lerie Rowe, who was walk­ing her two dogs on a leash.

It’s not a new prob­lem, said Lon­nie Moore, whose par­ents owned the park from 1959 to 1967. “Peo­ple would come to the park and tell us how beau­ti­ful it was, and they’d throw their trash on the ground. Peo­ple have not im­proved much,” he said.

Sara Hens­ley, di­rec­tor of the Austin Parks and Recre­ation Depart­ment, and Lt. Todd Smith of the Austin Po­lice Depart­ment say Bull Creek faces the same is­sues as the city’s other pop­u­lar parks, Zilker and Barton Creek: They’re over­run with users, and the trash fol­lows. Parks em­ploy­ees and po­lice can’t keep up.

“We’re un­der­staffed,” said Hens­ley. “We’ve been sing­ing that song for the last 11⁄ years that I’ve been here.”

At Bull Creek, a parks em­ployee nor­mally emp­ties the trash cans ev­ery other day.

“We’d like to come by daily, but we strug­gle to keep parks in good shape,” she said.

To make mat­ters worse, two groups — the Bull Creek Dog Off-Leash Group and the Bull Creek Foun­da­tion, which say they put in more than 1,500 hours clean­ing and main­tain­ing the area in 2009— have pulled out of the park. The city closed Bull Creek late last year be­cause of el­e­vated E. coli bac­te­ria lev­els, and dog waste was the cul­prit. When it re­opened in June as a leash-only park, the two groups left.

“We felt alien­ated,” said De­bra Bai­ley of the off-leash group, which wanted to keep Bull Creek for off-leash use. “We pro­posed so­lu­tions, and the city did not in­cor­po­rate any of our ideas. They didn’t want our help, so we pulled back our vol­un­teers, who were not only scoop­ing up dog poop but we were pick­ing up trash and help­ing out with land­scap­ing.”

Bull Creek Foun­da­tion mem­bers also quit vol­un­teer­ing at the park. They now con­cen­trate on main­tain­ing trails in the green­belt, said Skip Cameron, one of the group’s founders. Hens­ley said she’s dis­ap­pointed. “That’s kind of like say­ing, ‘I’m tak­ing my toys, and we’re go­ing home.’ We did what was best for the com­mu­nity as a whole. We spent many months of de­bat­ing the many is­sues with those groups,” she said.

The city has spent more than $109,000 on restor­ing veg­e­ta­tion to help with ero­sion and $700,000 for a new bridge over the low wa­ter cross­ing on Lake­wood Drive. Hens­ley has also or­dered her staff to pay closer at­ten­tion to Bull Creek.

“We’ll go see what’s go­ing on and beef up what­ever we need to beef up,” she said.

Also, Smith said of­fi­cers will step up their pa­trols. Since June, 23 ci­ta­tions have been is­sued for pos­sess­ing al­co­hol, bring­ing in glass con­tain­ers or vi­o­lat­ing park cur­few.

“We’ll be out there first thing Satur­day and Sun­day to cur­tail the be­hav­ior un­til it stops,” he said. “If peo­ple see oth­ers break­ing the law, they should call me at 974-7707.”

How­ever, Smith said po­lice will con­tinue to pri­or­i­tize calls. “Trash is not go­ing to be a high pri­or­ity com­pared to crimes against per­sons,” he said.

In ad­di­tion, 11 new park rangers will be­gin work in mid-Septem­ber but pri­mar­ily pa­trol Zilker and Barton Creek, said Pat Fuller of the Parks Ranger Pro­gram.

“But we’ll also work with APD to lend as­sis­tance at Bull Creek,” he said.

Bar­low, the dog owner, said that more en­force­ment is wel­come but that re­spon­si­bil­ity ul­ti­mately falls on park users. “How sim­ple is it to pick up af­ter your­self ?” he asked.

Ri­cardo Gán­dara

Af­ter week­end par­ties at Bull Creek Park, trash —from food wrap­pers to beer cans — lit­ters the ground, of­ten just a few feet from trash cans.

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