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Michael Barnes

Colin Wallis on Party for the Parks and the Austin Parks Foundation

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Colin Wallis of the Austin Parks Foundation.

Colin Wallis of the Austin Parks Foundation.

Proud of our parks? Up to a point, you should be.

According to the Trust for Public Land, the city of Austin has carved out roughly 28,000 acres of parks and open spaces. If one counts the surrounding region, we have collectively protected more than 100 square miles for parks and preserves.

Pretty impressive. Until you look at what we do with that astounding acreage.

The city of Austin, for instance, spends about $80 million annually to operate its parks.

“Given our abundance of parkland in Austin, that is probably $50 million to $100 million short of what is needed on an annual basis,” says Colin Wallis, head of the Austin Parks Foundation, which will throw its first Party for the Parks at Brazos Hall Sept. 30. “If you add in capital replacement costs, the deficit is in the billions.”

So it would cost billions to bring our parks up to high standards. What’s the worst of it?

“Our pools are in a state of emergency,” Wallis says. “It would take somewhere north of $50 million dollars to repair and replace our existing pool facilities. The average age of our almost 40 pools in Austin is 52 years old. The typical useful life span of a pool is 25 years.”

The Foundation, which threw its previous fundraiser in 2012, put together Party for the Parks in part to salute what the ACL Music Festival, which starts Oct. 2, has done by pumping millions into the nonprofit’s grants, programs and special projects.

“Since our relationship began in 2007, the festival has given back approximately $15 million dollars to hundreds of parks all over Austin,” Wallis says. “Austin ranks really high in parkland per capita. Unfortunately, we are bringing up the rear when it comes to funding and maintaining our parks. In the latest Trust for Public Lands ParkScore, Austin ranks No. 31 out of the top 75 cities – tied with Jersey City. In a city that prides itself on being No. 1, this is unacceptable.”