July 15, 2015 By Ali Carr Troxell
Austin, Texas, isn’t without trails. In fact, this notoriously outdoorsy, hip town in the center of the state has quite a few of them. But currently, many of them are overcrowded and deteriorating.
That’s why the Hill Country Conservancy (HCC), along with a handful of other trail groups and governmental agencies, is creating the 30-mile Violet Crown Trail, slated for completion in 2018. Once completed, the VCT will open up a thoroughfare of 200 miles of connected trails and serve as the backbone from downtown Austin out into the Hill Country.
Not only will the new Violet Crown Trail—named for the atmospheric phenomenon the city experiences around dusk—be open to hikers, it will invite cyclists, dog walkers, trail runners and mountain bikers, and certain sections will be open to horses. Made up of a multitude of surfaces depending on location, such as pavement, crushed granite, StaLok (a more durable and sustainable crushed granite) and natural terrain—the trail passes through everything from parks to urban environments and neighborhoods to exclusively trail-accessed areas of the Hill Country. Because the trail will connect several neighborhoods to downtown Austin, the HCC is especially excited about the alternative transportation opportunities it will create for an already too-congested city.
“The VCT will offer a transportation alternative for people moving into the city from the south side,” says Heidi Cohn of the HCC. “This is the largest trail system of its kind in our region and will connect to many of the existing trails. It’s a win-win on every level.”
Starting in the heart of Austin at Zilker Park, the first phase of the trail—all on natural surface—extends six miles south through the Barton Creek Greenbelt to Sunset Valley. Opening to the public on August 14, 2015, the Hill Country Conservancy expects this section to be flooded with mountain bikers.
“This is some of the most rugged terrain on the trail itself,” says Cohn. “It dips down in and out of canyons and crosses creek beds 16 times within the first six miles. It also passes by rock wall climbing areas.” Cohn adds that even though the trail here is surrounded by the city of Austin, “it’s a nice quiet detachment from the urban hustle.”
By the end of 2016, the next seven miles of trail will be completed from Sunset Valley to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. This section of trail—which required a lot of work with municipality and neighborhood associations for easements and permitting—will pass through seven neighborhoods, three major retail centers and some major parks.
The final 17-mile section of trail, from the Wildflower Center into Hays County, will be a real treat for Austinites. This will be the first time these 23,500 acres will be accessible, as they are preserved land that serve as a recharging area for the underground Edwards Aquifer. The entire 30-mile Violet Crown Trail is expected to be complete in 2018, thanks in part to a $25,000 REI grant to HCC.
“When Hill Country Conservancy started in 1999, our mission was to protect land in perpetuity, preserve the safety of the aquifer and ensure the vistas and outdoor recreation opportunities of the area,” says Cohn. “The VCT furthers our mission to help nurture the spirit of environmentalism by getting people out on the land.”
REI will donate $5.9 million in 2015 to help care for and increase access to more than 1,000 outdoor places in the U.S. Get involved: http://www.rei.com/trails.