West Austin Neighborhood Woods of Westlake Demands City of Austin Close Hill of Life Trail

The Woods of Westlake sent a letter to City of Austin leaders demanding that the Hill of Life greenbelt trail head be closed citing escalating safety concerns.

Online PR News – 17-June-2020 – Austin, Texas – The Woods of Westlake, a neighborhood situated near the Barton Creek Greenbelt in southwest Austin, sent a letter to over a dozen City of Austin leaders, including Mayor Steve Adler, on June 16, 2020 demanding that the Hill of Life greenbelt trail head be closed immediately, citing longstanding and escalating safety concerns.

The neighborhood is comprised of approximately 100 homes, and is accessed by Scottish Woods Trail off Loop 360.

This is the second such correspondence since May, 2020 outlining residents' complaints that the trail head does not have adequate infrastructure to cope with the high volume of visitors that access the greenbelt there. The trail, which falls under the City's Parks Department management, lacks designated parking for visitors, public restrooms, proper signage, and dedicated law enforcement to ensure the safety and security of visitors and residents. The letter explains that the lack of infrastructure creates unsafe traffic and parking conditions on the residential streets, as well as unsafe highway driving conditions on Loop 360.

Residents report that the majority of recent visitors use the Hill of Life- a steep, loose-rock, 1.2 mile long foot trail - to access a watering hole at the bottom of the trail. They say that visitors can be seen migrating from their cars to the trail head often carrying large coolers filled with alcohol to be consumed in the greenbelt.

The rapid increase in reports of nuisance and crime has been featured in recent local media pieces.

"We are deeply concerned that something tragic will happen before the City will realize this (trail head) is untenable," said resident Christie Schultz. "The confluence of large crowds, no dedicated parking, speeding, neighborhood kids, scant police presence, public intoxication, driving under the influence, the challenging terrain, and visitors underestimating (the difficulty) has created a chaos cocktail here. Then when these are compounded by the Texas heat, lack of water fountains and restrooms, the fact that it's a flowing body of water down there with no lifeguards, and the difficulty for first responders to cut through the mess of illegally parked cars and crowds to quickly access victims, we have a situation that many of us feel is a recipe for disaster," Ms. Schultz added. "We've had stone mailboxes smashed to pieces by a speeding pick-up truck in a hit-and-run, a lot of near misses with cars almost striking children, and weekly emergency rescues with eight, ten fire, EMS units by land, water - not to mention Star Flight hovering overhead- to help a visitor in trouble. We literally hold our breaths every day and pray everyone makes it out alive."

Representatives say that after years of frustration in bending the City's ear, and with a swift uptick in visitors since the beginning the Covid-19 pandemic, the neighborhood formed a task force to deal specifically with greenbelt challenges in May of 2020. Since May, the task force has reached out to several representatives with the City to engage in a substantive conversation about how they can work together to manage the Hill of Life challenges. As of this publication, no qualitative responses had been received by the Woods of Westlake from the City of Austin.

Residents concede that the City did install more no parking signs, painted additional curbs red, responded more frequently to parking violation reports, and issued more tickets for parking violators since May. But they say it's simply not enough, and was never meant to be enough.

Recently, task force research unearthed transcripts of City Council meetings from the late 1990's outlining the City of Austin's pledge to the Woods of Westlake that the Hill of Life trail head would be temporary until a permanent access point was developed- complete with dedicated parking, restrooms, and water refill stations. The access point discussed at that time was slated to be south of the Woods of Westlake on Loop 360. After reviewing the history, many on the task force believe that the City reneged on its promise to the neighborhood, resulting in three decades of this small residential community struggling to deal with sizable crowds it was never intended to have.

"The transcripts spell it out- a public greenbelt access point was never meant to stay here in our tiny neighborhood. Knowing the history now, it actually all makes a lot more sense why it's not working here, and why it can't stay here," said resident John Gump,

The June 16, 2020 letter addressed to nearly two dozen City leaders states that if the City does not respond to this demand to close the trail head, that the Woods of Westlake will take measures to do so on its own.

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