AUSTIN - As Austin continues to grow through its neighborhoods as well as its business district, the city can lose a bit of its outdoors-y feel. However, there is one area of the Austin area that is not only keeping its outdoors atmosphere -- it is only growing with time.
Drive to the northern part of Austin, and you'll find it difficult to avoid running into the Walnut Creek Park. This 293-acre public park features 15 miles of hiking trails, sports fields and a large open-leash area for dogs.
Clair Melton moved to Austin in 1996 and quickly found a new passion the very next year.
"In 1997, I discovered mountain biking and was immediately hooked," Melton said. "That's how the Walnut Creek Park became so important to me."
While Melton isn't biking right now due to a wrist injury, this sport has been and will continue to be a big part of her life. Melton has competed in national and international racing competitions. She said the Walnut Creek Park has always been a great place to ride.
"This has its own character," Melton said. "Mountain bikers come here for a very specific thing, and that's the flow."
That flow Melton is referring to is connected to the trail's surface. While many Austin trails are more tech-driven with rock or asphalt, most of the Walnut Creek trails have a dirt surface and are surrounded by nature.
"It's just you, the dirt and the trees," Melton said. "Those urban sounds of the city that just right over there -- it gets muffled."
While many people in the park go for the biking, there is another large area for dogs to roam free. Mary Breedlove owns two Golden Labradors -- a mix of a Golden Retriever and Lapabrador. Even though she lives farther north in Pflugerville, she said she drives south to Walnut Creek to let her dogs enjoy the outdoors leash-free.
"It's totally worth the drive," Breedlove said. "A lot of the off-leash parks are kind of fenced in or flat. This one actually has some places for them to explore. They get to run around and just be dogs."
What makes this park even more unique is its physical location in Austin. While it's in the north-northeast area, there are several neighborhoods that are right up next to it. For example, Claudia Molina has been living in the same neighborhood in Austin for 25 years -- with Walnut Creek Park being right in her backyard.
"I can just step out my backdoor, and there's a huge park," Molina said. "It's endless. You go out there and can walk for two or three hours in any direction. It's just really well done."
It hasn't always been really well done, though, as Melton said there are many bikers -- many from the Austin Ridge Riders Bike Club -- who will take care of the park on their own volition.
"A lot of people who come out here have no idea about the labor that goes into the upkeep," Melton said. "They've armored parts with landscaping rock that someone donated. Other parts of trees are also trimmed. It's a constant work."
Even Molina talked about her part in keeping the park as nice as it can be, sometimes taking a trash bag with her to pick up trash.
"We are a part of a community here," Molina said. "You want to maintain it, and you see people caring for it."
While going to the Walnut Creek area is a way for many to get away from the city while remaining in the city and is simply a backyard for others, it's become a piece of Austin with it's own vibe and outdoor feel. It's a place those living there seem to be taking ownership of proudly.
"In itself, it's a completely different culture when you go out there," Molina said. "It's wonderful."
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