As Austin continues to grow in size and stature, its public parks can either deteriorate from that growth or thrive because of it. Nonprofit conservancies are one way by which they can thrive, raising philanthropic dollars for rehabilitation and construction of new projects. But they’re also tasked with being stewards of the park and maintaining their place as jewels in the Austin landscape.
“Austin is the 11th largest city in the country, and not unlike other cities, you start to see the emergence of nonprofit partners to help bring philanthropy and additional resources to our park spaces,” said Kim McKnight, acting director of the Austin Parks and Recreation Department. It surprises many, she says, when they realize how wide the scope of the department is, encompassing hundreds of parks, dozens of recreation centers and cultural centers, pools, museums, and even cemeteries. “With all the things we have going on, it’s really terrific to have nonprofit partners step up and offer to help support our parks.”
Raising awareness of the park and its projects is part of the mission of conservancies, and programming helps them accomplish that. Events like Waller Creek Conservancy‘s annual Creek Show brought 20,000 people to its parks over nine nights. “Because a lot of people don’t know what the conservancy is doing, being able to interface with that many people is great,” said Meredith Bossin, director of engagement. In 2017, the conservancy added a lounge space which had a model of the development plan on display. “We had a lot of success with that,” said Bossin.
Pease Park Conservancy is also investing more in programming, creating a new position to conceive of and manage events and outreach. Ixchel Granada, a landscape architect and conservationist, started in July.
“We’re thinking about outreach and programming that speaks to everybody,” said Granada. “Programming is also a way to remind people of how these parks are functioning pieces of our ecosystem and also form these beautiful spaces and habitats for wildlife.”
“The common thread of just about every decision we are making right now is an urgent desire to see Pease Park truly grow into its designation as a district park,” said Heath Riddles, CEO of Pease Park Conservancy. “By this I mean making the park more accessible, appealing and welcoming to all Austinites.”
Barton Springs Conservancy has also brought on new staff, CEO Emma Lindrose-Siegel, who also started in July. While the nonprofit’s main role is to raise money for the rehabilitation of the historic bathhouse, Lindrose-Siegel says it sees programming as a way to ensure more people from across the community value that work. This year, Barton Springs Conservancy launched a program to bring new students from Huston-Tillotson University to the iconic Barton Springs pool.
“Austin is changing so much and new people are moving here every day,” she said. “The more we engage the community the better off our parks are going to be.”