Green improvements for Zilker Park

Hannah Jane DeCiutiis

     As Austin City Limits attendees and other park-goers know, the area of Zilker Park where the festival is held, was a barren wasteland of dust (a common complaint among festival patrons) until this past festival. ACL 2009 was different because it took place after the completion of a $2.5 million park improvement project, a process that began in 2006 and was paid for by C3 Presents, the company behind ACL as well as other major Austin festivals such as Lollapalooza.

     Zilker Metropolitan Park, a noted Austin park and a familiar landscape to most Austinites, is an expansive stretch of land consisting of some 400 acres. The northern section of the park, called the Great Lawn, has not had any sort of major improvements since the early 1930’s. The grass has been fully dependent on rain until now, resulting in a dry terrain full of minor bumps and ruts throughout, with sparse patches of grass (if any). The small amount of existing grass was a regular type of Bermuda grass, unsuitable for the heavy foot traffic.

     The Zilker makeover resurfaced the 46-acre Great Lawn, including the plot of land on which ACL is held, Auditorium Shores. The improvements involved leveling the ground and smoothing out imperfections on the terrain, as well as bringing in new Dillo dirt- which has more capacity to retain water- to cover the dust. Forty-two acres of a new and improved type of grass called Bermuda 419 were planted, resulting in a much more stable surface for the steady influx of people. The installation of a new irrigation system benefited not only the grass but the environment and city as well; the water used for the grass is non-potable, untreated water from Lady Bird Lake, which will result in better conservation of drinking water. New technology will help the system control water use by adjusting irrigation schedules to properly fit the needs of the landscape based on local weather and condition of the grass.

     These improvements to the landscape as well as the construction of a sand volleyball court and six new drinking fountains were all completed in time for this year’s ACL Festival which took place Friday, October 2 through Sunday, October 4. In a strange turn of events, the second day of the festival brought heavy rain, which turned the brand-new pristine grass into four inches of thick mud. Though this did not deter over 70,000 loyal fans, the mud seemed problematic for C3 Presents, the source of funds for the massive cleanup of festival damage in the park every year. Though the situation seemed bleak for the new renovations, the Austin Parks and Recreation Department has stated that the grass and roots underneath all the mud are still intact and will, in fact, recover. C3 Presents assured the public that they planned an extended cleanup period, by using machines to aerate the wet soil to dry it, allowing the new grass to push through.

     Another eco-friendly initiative by the city of Austin was the switch to LED lights for the Trail of Lights displays in 2007. Thirty percent of the light displays on the trail were replaced with the new bulbs, which use between eighty and ninety percent less energy than regular bulbs. The Trail of Lights this year, however, has been scaled back and renamed. The 2009 Zilker Tree Holiday Festival will include a shorter walking path with fewer displays and will only last from December 13 through December 21, therefore lasting nine days in comparison to the usual two weeks.

     It is the hope of the city that all of these go-green advances made in recent years will hopefully ensure a healthier environment for the citizens of Austin.