by Karen Marquardt
We are graced in the Austin area with a climate that allows year round outdoor activity. Austin’s many parks make getting outside easy and fun; about the only things we can’t do are winter sports like skiing! In our Featured Park series we will highlight parks large and small, and introduce you to opportunities ranging from feeding ducks to hiking for hours. Some are hidden gems and some are so well known that a trip to Austin is incomplete without a visit. This little park in Georgetown might be my favorite area park! It is small, quiet, and lovely. And for those on the north side of Austin, it’s an easy drive. This is a “passive recreation” park, and has no sports fields.
The 300 acre park is a former pecan plantation dating from the 1940s, and the site of one the earliest grist mills in Williamson County. There are hiking trails, a spring-fed fishing pond, a campground (tents only), picnic pavilions, a playscape, a beautiful flower garden maintained by master gardeners, pecans for snacking on, and the resident mascots are two donkeys. I’ve hiked, fished, camped, geocached, gathered pecans, fed the donkeys, and played with my kids in this park.
The first stop for any visit is the donkey paddock next to the parking lot. The donkeys, Bob and Amigo, live in a paddock which surrounds part of the old homestead and they have the softest hair! They won’t pay much attention to you unless you bring carrots, so be sure to bring some along.
Once you have petted the donkeys, you can move on to the rest of the activities. I love the pretty spring fed pond that is the site of the original grist mill. The dam was originally built in 1846, and has been washed out and rebuilt twice. There is a fishing platform (catch and release only) over remarkably clear blue water. This makes fishing with little kids super easy, because they can actually see the fish when it bites! On the shore of the pond is one of the burr stones from John Berry’s mill. The huge pecan trees provide lots of shade on a hot Texas day, and lots of nuts in the fall. In addition to the native pecan trees, there are many “improved” trees too. All the pecans taste great, but the improved ones are a little easier to get open.
There are about four miles of easy hike and bike trails within the park. The trails pass the amphitheater, Berry family cemetery, flower garden, fire pit, pond and campground. Some parts are open, while others are well shaded, and there are great wildlife viewing areas. While camping with the Boy Scouts one spring we saw at least 14 hawks from five species, several kinds of water birds, bluebirds, and many other fascinating birds. In addition to the tent only drive-in camping, there is also a hike-in camping area that is primitive, but lovely. All of the campsites are very quiet, especially considering how close the park is to downtown Georgetown.
The park was listed as one of the “hidden gems” of Georgetown for good reason!