ustin is kept beautiful by the many community volunteers who are dedicated to protecting its natural environment. Gracywoods Neighborhood Association is taking the lead in these efforts, earning them recognition as a Keep Austin Beautiful 30th Annual Award Winner.
A map of the North Star Greenbelt
Gracywoods Neighborhood is located north of Braker Lane and bordered by Metric and on the east and Lamar on the west. This unassuming area has Walnut Creek Metropolitan Park, a 293 acre greenspace with hike and bike trails and Walnut Creek, at its center. A short distance from the park the North Star Greenbelt offers another oasis of greenery.
The North Star Greenbelt at Tallowfield
Gracywoods Neighborhood residents recognized their backyard treasures and set out to improve them! For nearly 40 years, Leaders Bill Glass and Craig Nazor have been implementing tried and true methods for restoring natural ecosystems. They became a Keep Austin Beautiful Adopt-a-Creek partner in 2012. With Keep Austin Beautiful guidance, tools, and supplies and Watershed Protection Department support, they planted over 300 trees, removed invasive plants, reduced mowing, and fostered a greater environmental awareness within the neighborhood.
Community members painting bridges and wood structures around the park in March 2015
I spoke with Bill about his and the neighborhood’s restoration plans and gained a new insight on the importance of small-scale community collaboration.
Lily: Who typically uses the park?
Bill: Most everyone in the neighborhood uses it. Through seeing the benefits of a diverse variety of native plant species, we hope to create a ripple effect and see the neighborhood do the same and use less poisons and fertilizers. If people are able to learn about sustainable landscaping at the park and use those techniques in their yards, the cumulative effect would allow the watershed to heal.
Volunteers planting new native species at a spot named “Sandy’s Garden”
Lily: You mentioned that not everyone in the neighborhood was a fan of the Grow Zone before – why would anyone not be in favor of Grow Zones?
Bill: People were afraid of tall grasses and weeds, snakes and rats…Afraid of what is wild. We helped them to see that through plant diversity, we have bird species we’ve never seen before. People want golf courses and mowed lawns, but the natural way is low maintenance and it has proven benefits.
Spotted at the Greenbelt: A Red-Tailed Hawk
Lily: Is the water quality of the creek better or worse now?
Bill: Things are so much better now than in the 50’s. Back then when there was a flood, you couldn’t walk around in the water without getting an infection. Now you can even swim in Walnut Creek. Since there is so much building, there is a lot that needs to be done to control erosion between developers and city neighborhood groups. It’s not the best it could be, but it’s much better.
Lily: What has been Gracywoods Neighborhood Association’s biggest accomplishment?
Bill: Improving water quality is definitely our biggest accomplishment. The shrubbery we have planted slows the flow of water and we can trap floating debris that comes off the streets. We can help save lives of wildlife, like that famous turtle that had plastic from a 6 pack strapped around its body. He became the poster boy of the impact of littering and the importance of keeping trash out of waterways and oceans. By acting locally, we will create a global effect.
Peanut, the “Poster boy for Pollution“
Lily: In regards to future sustainability, what would you like to see more of in Austin?
Bill: We need to do more to get residents out into the parks! There will be such a high benefit if people have a keener appreciation for wildlife and put money into programs like coyote reestablishment instead of removal. They have a natural function in ecosystems, like bees and monarch butterflies. What I would like to see is persuading City Council to increase funding for our parks and change the way they do maintenance. In the uplands, we still over mow which increases downstream erosion. We could let the grasses be wildflower meadows instead.
Volunteers unload landscaping supplies during It’s My Park Day 2012
Bill: We are going to add a kiosk to the landscaping. It will provide information on our no-mow transition strategy and what we anticipate to gain from the project. With the help of organizations like Keep Austin Beautiful, we are organizing a coalition of people to raise funds for this project. Next month, we are going to landscape the northern portion of the Walnut Creek trail, which will be turned over to the parks department within the next few weeks. Keep Austin Beautiful will be providing beautification resources including plants, volunteers, and materials to landscape this trailhead. We plan to do 4-5 more similar projects within the next few months.Help us honor Gracywoods Neighborhood Association’s water quality improvement efforts and commitment to biodiversity at the Beautiful Bash on November 18th 6pm to 8:30pm at 1102 East Ceasar Chavez St., 78702.