Trash, bad behavior befoul beauty of Bull Creek Park
Parks department and police can’t keep up with popularity
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.
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.