Close Trail's End Barton Creek Greenbelt Access
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The Barton Creek Greenbelt "Trail's End" access, also known as the "Hill of Life", has become dangerous for visitors, residents, and is destroying the natural ecosystem.
The access was intended to be temporary, as the Austin City Council committed in writing to the small neighborhood called the Woods of Westlake in which the access point is situated, back in the 1990's. This narrow access to the greenbelt had, and still has, no designated parking, no restrooms, no water fountain, no proper signage warning visitors of the steep terrain grade or water risk. The city's plan was always to open a new trail head at a less steep entry point a little further south on Loop 360, where it would build out a safe parking lot, restrooms, water refill stations, and a safer entry point for visitors and first responders alike.
But this never happened. The newer, safer trail access was never built out, this temporary access was never closed, and it eventually became a default access point to the greenbelt. For thirty years, the Woods of Westlake has tried in earnest to be a supportive host for the popular trail access with no supporting infrastructure.
However over the past few years there has been a huge uptick in visitors, and a shift from primarily athletes accessing the trails system at this steep point, to a much larger percentage now seeking it out primarily to drag tubes and coolers down the hill to sit, drink alcohol, and party in the swimming hole at the bottom of the long hill.
The city has failed to deal with the escalating safety problems stemming from this volume of visitors, beginning with dangerous traffic back-ups on Loop 360 as turn lanes fill up get into the neighborhood at the light. We are a small neighborhood, with limited street parking. This has led to a chaotic street parking situation, including speeding, unsafe driving while looking for parking, drunk driving after drinking on the greenbelt, and even hit-and-run destruction of a stone mailbox. Sooner or later, we fear someone will be killed.
But traffic isn't the only problem. The situation has become untenable on all levels. Because the city has ignored the increasing maintenance and patrol needs that go along with large crowds, we have overwhelming litter from lawns to curbs to streets to the trail head, and all the way down the beautiful greenbelt to the swimming hole. The natural ecosystem is unrecognizable in many places along the trail now, with human and dog waste, beer cans, condoms, needles, and other pollutants driving away the wildlife this greenbelt was intended to preserve. It is unknown how much this unregulated human traffic has affected water quality, because the city is not testing the water.
There is no law enforcement presence, so visitors of all ages can consume alcohol (technically prohibited in the greenbelt), then get into their car and drive home. There is little parking enforcement, leading to blind corners as the streets are lined in all directions with cars. First responders, who often respond in multiple units to manage the terrain grade and many possibly victim locations including water and cliffsides, often have no place to park as illegal parking fills up the fire zones. Star Flight often hovers, along with up to a dozen units to help visitors who often are unprepared or unfit for the conditions, drunk, or all of the above.
The greenbelt is already a place of concern for fire experts, who fear there is not adequate wildfire prevention. Given this, one of the thousands of weekly visitors could easily instigated a fire that could become quickly devastating for visitors and residents alike.
Most recently, the COVID-19 pandemic has attracted even more visitors to this small trail access. As the retail world and other watering holes, parks, and preserves closed or limited capacity due to public health concerns, the Trail's End ("Hill of Life") has remained opened for 100%, 200%, 500%+ capacity. Few wear masks on the trail or in the swimming area. It's free of charge, never closes, and fully unregulated. It's the best spot in town when everything else closes to protect health.
The Woods of Westlake has reached the end of its patience with the city. Years of being ignored, with recent months of intense pleas for attention, have led us to conclude that the only way to protect people and the incredible natural gem that is the greenbelt, is to close this trail access.
We have documented our struggles and concerns and invite you to visit our website, www.woodsofwestlake.org which features local media pieces on this ongoing challenge. We are grateful to fellow community members who will support us in this effort.
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