Austin’s Greenbelt is 7 miles of undeveloped land in the middle of the city, a little bit of wilderness for this city’s countless mountain bikers, rock climbers, cavers and trail runners.
While the Greenbelt has become one of Austin’s most beloved amenities, its existence is entirely practical: its dry creek beds become raging torrents after heavy rainfall. On a dry weather stroll through the gravel bottom washes, look up—you’ll find grasses, tree limbs and sometimes entire trunks wedged between the branches overhead.
During most of my two years in Austin, the Greenbelt has swung between two extremes: rushing floodwaters and barren gravel. But November’s floods followed by gentle drizzly rains brought a sort of early Christmas miracle to Austin—a swift, clear and steady flow of water through Barton Creek from its headwaters in Bee Cave to its confluence with the Colorado River.
The water was deep enough to accommodate jumps off the limestone boulders in Gus Fruh. And if the 80 degree weather had held out, I would have been sorely pressed not to play hooky for a little urban kayaking. But winter returned, leaving me pining for a wet-weather spring and hopeful for many years of living water to come.
And while it would be errant to forget the loss of life and home that November’s floods brought to Austin—most tragically along Onion Creek—the beauty and joy of the Greenbelt should remind us of what we gain by returning our floodplains to nature: safer homes, and more places to play.