Lady Bird Lake
Lady Bird Lake (previously known as Town Lake) is a river-like reservoir on the Colorado River in Austin, Texas, United States. The reservoir was built in 1960 by the City of Austin as a cooling pond for a new city power plant. The lake, which covers 416 acres (168 hectares), is presently largely utilized for leisure and flood management. The reservoir is named after Lady Bird Johnson, the former First Lady of the United States.
Lady Bird Lake is the easternmost reservoir of a series of reservoirs on the river, which is entirely in Texas and should not be confused with the greater Colorado River, which is situated in the Southwestern United States. The Texas Highland Lakes network also includes Lake Buchanan, Inks Lake, Lake LBJ, Lake Marble Falls, Lake Travis, and Lake Austin.
In 1960, the City of Austin built Longhorn Dam to create Town Lake. The reservoir was required by the city to serve as a cooling pond for the Holly Street Power Plant, which operated from 1960 to 2007.
Before 1971, the Town Lake waterfront was mainly overgrown with weeds, overgrown plants, and rubbish. The lake was described as a “eyesore” by local television station KTBC. Some concerned Austinites organized little cleanup operations for the lake. Austin Board of Parks and Recreation Chair Roberta Crenshaw acquired almost 400 trees and bushes in an effort to drive parks development surrounding the lake. During his two stints as Mayor of Austin (1971-75), Roy Butler led the Austin City Council in establishing the Town Lake Beautification Committee, and he selected Lady Bird Johnson as honorary chairperson. Johnson’s engagement attracted attention and money to the Town Lake project (including $19,000 of her own), enabling for the planting of hundreds of bushes and trees. The city has constructed a network of hiking and bike routes around the lake’s shores.
The Austin City Council approved a contentious motion on July 26, 2007, renaming the reservoir from Town Lake to Lady Bird Lake in honor of Lady Bird Johnson, who died earlier that month. Johnson had turned down the honor of having the lake named after her while she was still living. The City Council renamed the lake to honor Johnson’s devotion to lake beautification and her efforts to construct a recreational path system along the lake’s shores.
Keep Austin Beautiful, a non-profit group, started “Clean Lady Bird Lake” in 2009. Every year, hundreds of community volunteers are mobilized to do large-scale cleanups along the lake every other month, as well as targeted cleanups throughout the year.
Lady Bird Lake is a popular recreation spot in Austin. The Ann and Roy Butler Hike-and-Bike Route surrounds the lake’s banks, and businesses along the lakefront part of the trail provide recreational watercraft services. Zilker Park, Austin’s largest downtown park, is close to the lake, and Barton Springs, a popular swimming hole, flows into it.
The operating of most motorized watercraft on Lady Bird Lake is prohibited by the City of Austin. As a result, paddleboards, kayaks, canoes, dragon boats, and rowing shells are popular leisure activities on the lake. Crew teams and clubs like Austin’s mild temperature and the river’s quiet waters, approximately 6 miles (9.7 km) length, and straight courses. Along with the University of Texas women’s rowing team and coeducational club rowing team, which practice year round on Lady Bird Lake, teams from other universities (including the University of Wisconsin, the University of Chicago, the University of Oklahoma, and the University of Nebraska) train on Lady Bird Lake during the Christmas and spring breaks.
Swimming at Deep Eddy Pool, Texas’s oldest swimming pool, and Barton Springs Pool, a natural pool on Barton Creek, which drains into Lady Bird Lake, are two more water activities available near the lake’s borders. Red Bud Isle is a tiny island formed by the collapse of the McDonald Dam in 1900 that serves as a recreation area with a dog park and access to the lake for canoeing and fishing.
Swimming at Lady Bird Lake is prohibited, not because of poor water quality from local streets, which is a myth, but because of multiple drownings and debris in the lake from bridges and dams demolished by floods in the past. The restriction was imposed by the City of Austin in 1964, and the penalties can be up to $500.
In August 2019, a deadly blue-green algae was discovered in the lake for the first time, killing at least 5 canines that were exposed.
The Lady Bird Lake banks host a variety of events throughout the year, including the Austin City Limits Music Festival in the fall, the Austin Reggae Festival and Spamarama in the spring, and several open-air performances at Auditorium Shores on the south bank and Fiesta Gardens on the north bank. From 1962 until 1998, the Austin Aqua Festival was hosted on the beaches of Lady Bird Lake. Stevie Ray Vaughan, a late Austin native and blues guitar star, performed at Auditorium Shores several times and is remembered by a memorial statue on the south bank.
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