Susan Smith

The Boardwalk

Executive Director of The Trail Foundation opens up about the 2014 addition to the city’s beloved lake.

The idea for the Boardwalk was initially conceived of by a visionary Parks Department employee, Butch Smith, over 20 years ago. With over a $14 million investment from the City in the 2010 bond package and $3 million raised in private funds, Smith’s idea moved toward being a reality when the project launched in August 2012. The vision was realized with a fabulous grand opening when it opened to the public on June 7, 2014. Over 1,000 people were in attendance and we all did a parade down the Boardwalk led by the East Side Panther Drumline. Blue Lapis Light dancers did a spectacular performance, twirling from the columns under I-35 in sparkling turquoise body suits.

I have been running on the Trail for over 20 years. I always knew the Boardwalk would be a special place. But the experience of being out over the water is more than I ever could have imagined. You see people from all walks of life out there. I recently led a tour from the Wildflower Center and right above the Boardwalk, I saw a pair of red shouldered hawks up in a cottonwood tree. This is something you wouldn’t have seen if it wasn’t for the Boardwalk. People get to experience nature in a new way just using the Trail. I recently went out to the Boardwalk on a Saturday night just to see how people were using it, and sure enough there were walkers, strollers, and exercisers there between the twinkling railing lights. It was wonderful. We are currently building a new restroom, Heron Creek, designed by Mell Lawrence Architects. Also, we are under construction of the East Side pedestrian bridge next to the hostel building. And we are developing a Trailwide urban forestry and ecological restoration plan with Forestry and Watershed Protection.

I have worked as a botanist, water lawyer, a full-time mom and being the Executive Director for the Trail Foundation has been an incredible opportunity. Plus, I have met a huge number of interesting people—the staff at the Parks & Recreation Department, our members, and all of the architects and landscape architects with whom we collaborate. The beauty on the Butler Trail is unsurpassed. I will never tire of spending time on it.

Susan Plettman Rankin has been the Executive Director of The Trail Foundation since 2006. A botanist, her favorite tree along the Trail is the bald cypress.

5 Things You May Not Know About Lady Bird Lake

  • The Lake did not even exist until 1960 when Longhorn Dam was built to provide cooling water for the Holly Power Plant. the dam’s name comes from the fact that the area was used as a ford across the river in the Chisholm trail days.
  • There is a hidden “opossum temple and Voodoo Pew” near where TTF is now building a new restroom at Heron Creek, across from the town Lake YMCA.
  • Because of the clear water conditions, there is excellent night time fishing for largemouth bass according to Texas Parks and wildlife Department.

  • There used to be an epic tug of war over the lake—for three years in the 1980s, hundreds took part in the North-South Austin “Tug of Honor.” the idea was dreamt up by Charlie Gandy, a former State Representative.

  • At The Texas Rowing Center, you can still see the one remaining immense concrete and steel pylon from the ‘cable bucket conveyor’ that transported clay in the early 1900s from the Zilker Park area to the brick kilns, now Austin High School, to make bricks for Butler Brick Company.


Photography by Kenny Braun

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