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Monthly Archives: July 2012

I saw this article about Mary Moore Searight Metropolitan Park a couple of months ago and put this far South Austin park on my list of new places to visit with the kids. The park totals 344 acres and has trails, a disc golf course, playground, picnic tables, barbecue pits, and restrooms. Adjacent to the park is a private radio-controlled airplane airport. Your children might spot a tiny plane zooming through the air as you drive to the park.

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The park is named after Mary Moore Searight, who donated most of the land for the park to the city in the mid-1980s, and whose family had a significant ranching operation at the site.

The park’s entrance at 907 Slaughter Lane is easy to miss. We didn’t see it when we first drove by so we had to circle back and then drive down the park’s long driveway. From the parking lot, we walked east down a sidewalk to a little gazebo. According to the sign, this was the foundation of the original Searight home.

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We walked back toward the playground and past the restrooms to access the trail.

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Early in our hike, we crossed Slaughter Creek. While we could see water to our left and right, the crossing area itself just had a few puddles.

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The primary trail consisted of gravel and broken-up asphalt but there were many secondary trails and paths. We stuck to the main trail. About 1/4 mile into our walk, we came upon a clear fork in the trail and went left.

My children were greatly entertained by the physical fitness stations scattered along the trail.

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We were intrigued by the wooden hitching posts along the path but, alas, we did not see anyone riding horses in the park.

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The “fork” we had chosen ended up taking us on a big loop, about 1 – 1 1/4 miles long. In other words, when we completed the loop it returned us to the original fork. About halfway through the loop, we came across this “field of dreams” soccer field. We were completely mystified until we walked on a bit farther and saw that the park abuts a neighborhood whose residents can access the field without walking over 1/2 mile!

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Next we saw a similarly-isolated baseball back stop. I later learned that if we had continued straight past the back stop (instead of following the main trail) we would have been able to access Slaughter Creek again, including the park’s fishing pier! Due to the heat and hike length (almost a mile at this point and we still had the return trip to make) we were not feeling adventurous enough to explore these additional trails. In fact, even our dog needed to take a breather on a park bench.

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We were at the park from about 11 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. on a Saturday morning. There were a few other park visitors but it was not crowded at all. Some people were exercising on the loop trail and we even saw a few bike riders. It might be interesting to return in cooler weather (and possibly bring along a printed-out map) to take another shot at finding the fishing pier!

THE RUNDOWN:
Austin Active Kids Opinion: With a little bit of planning ahead, you will get a lot out of a visit to this unique and uncrowded park!
Outing Time: About 1.5 hours
Outing Distance: About 1.75 miles total
Reminders: While there is a water fountain near the parking lot and playground, you need to bring your own water for when you hike the trail. There is some shade but it is not constant. Be prepared with plenty of water and take breaks to cool off. You can read more about Mary Moore Searight Metropolitan Park in this Austin Explorer article.

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When most Austinites hear “Bull Creek Park,” they are likely to think of the popular park at 6701 Lakewood Drive that was devastated by Tropical Storm Hermine in September 2010. The rest of the Bull Creek Greenbelt–a 3.5 mile trail along the banks of the creek–is not as well-known.

We discovered the Bull Creek Greenbelt about 5 years ago and we’ve enjoyed it ever since. Our favorite starting point is Lakewood Drive, just off Loop 360. There is a small gravel parking lot to your left (heading south on Lakewood Drive from 360). This is the view of Bull Creek from the parking lot.

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We walked north on the trail and stayed on the west side of the creek. The trail consists primarily of limestone and it will take you under Loop 360.

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Attentive visitors will be rewarded with sightings of butterflies, lizards, fish, grasshoppers, and many other interesting creatures. I was determined to get a photo of this bright orange dragonfly!

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After about 1/4 mile of walking along the relatively flat and easy-to-navigate limestone adjacent to the creek, you will have to climb a small incline and walk along a ledge (pictured below) to continue on. If you are new to hiking with your family, you may want to consider this your turning-around point. On the other hand, if your family is experienced with rough terrain and the children are all about age 5 or older, you should be able to manage the trail.

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If you are able to proceed, a lovely surprise is just up the path! About 1/3 mile from our original starting point, we came upon this tiny yet charming waterfall.

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We spent some time examining the area around the waterfall.

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Cool, clear water gathered in little pools. The waterfall setting was shady and refreshing.

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We continued hiking along the creek until our total distance covered was just under 1/2 mile. After a water break, we made the return trip to our starting point. We crossed the creek and explored the other side briefly.

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The Bull Creek Greenbelt presents a paradox for visiting families: the area is at its loveliest when there has been enough rain to replenish the creek and limestone seeps and springs yet the very presence of all of this water makes the limestone very slippery. Wear sturdy shoes, pay attention to your footing, and stay focused on the hike (in other words, avoid distractions like cell phones).

The trail had very few visitors when we were there (late morning on a Friday). If solitude is not your cup of tea, you might want to plan an early evening or weekend visit. You can read more details about the Bull Creek Greenbelt in this Austin Explorer description.

THE RUNDOWN:
Austin Active Kids Opinion: If you can handle a slightly challenging trail that is off the beaten path, you will find a lot to explore at the Bull Creek Greenbelt!
Outing Time: About 1 hour
Outing Distance: Less than 1 mile
Reminders: The City of Austin will post signs if there are water quality issues. We see people swimming almost every time we visit but we prefer to find other locations for recreational swimming for safety reasons. The children will occasionally wade or splash but we do not wear bathing suits or otherwise treat it as a “swimming outing.”