Mayor Craig Morgan writes a monthly column for the Round Rock Leader.
Outdoor spaces for gathering and recreation have always been an important component of Round Rock’s overall quality of life, but this past year has proved what we’ve known to be true all along: these public places are essential to residents’ physical and psychological well-being.
In the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, people needed an outlet outside of their home that was safe, so the City of Round Rock committed to keeping our parks open throughout the pandemic. Our daily trail use increased by 63 percent, from around 900 people per day average before COVID-19 to 1,472 people per day average during the period of April through June 2020, as captured by counters at three locations along Brushy Creek Trail. Local athletes held practice at the Multipurpose Sports Complex and other fields around town. We even saw an increase in the use of otherwise passive outdoor areas, as families set up blankets in parks to meet with friends or groups played games in grassy areas to pass the time.
As vaccines became more accessible, outdoor spaces again served as a way to transition back to a more tangible sense of community. We held our first Music on Main event featuring Dale Watson this May in Prete Plaza in Downtown Round Rock, and it felt like a breath of fresh air after a very long year. The crowd gathered while creating an environment that felt safe and respectful. I was so proud of our community for the way they showed up and treated each other that evening, and felt a renewed sense of hope for our future.
Round Rock’s other outdoor events have proven to be popular ways to gather this year, including our Juneteenth Rhythm and Ribs Festival, Flashlight Egg Hunt, Pop Up Play Days and Fourth of July festivities.
The pandemic gave many of our residents, along with visitors to our community, the chance to explore all of the wonderful parks and outdoor spaces the City has worked diligently and strategically to put in place over the years. New parks, trails and other outdoor developments can require land acquisition, long-term planning and, of course, funding.
Fortunately, our community has long seen the value of investing in these recreational opportunities for the future. In November 2013, Round Rock residents approved a bond supporting parks and recreation improvements, including our repair and replace program updating neighborhood parks throughout the city and several hike and bike trail extensions, including completed segments along Brushy Creek and Lake Creek. Construction on Heritage Trail West, which will provide a path along Brushy Creek from Chisholm Trail Park to Mays Street, is expected to wrap up next year, and land has been acquired for the Heritage Trail East project, which will continue the path from Mays Street to Georgetown Street. In our latest resident survey, we saw an 8 percent increase in satisfaction with the City’s parks and trails system over the previous survey two years before, and are excited to continue bringing new trail segments online.
Downtown is another area of focus for our City Council, and will continue to provide an important gathering space for our community as Round Rock continues to grow. In our most recent survey, Downtown was named respondents’ favorite development over the last five years. In 2020, we completed six new “parklets” on East Main Street between Mays Street and Sheppard Street, which include new trees, tables and chairs, additional landscaping, lighting elements and expanded walkable space for pedestrians. We just ordered additional tables and chairs to further activate the parklets as gathering spaces. Our new library, which is under construction just one block north of Main Street and scheduled to open in January 2023, will include a courtyard for families to gather, and a 300-space parking garage so we can better accommodate larger crowds.
We will continue to ensure our outdoor spaces are exceptional and that we are taking innovative approaches to providing areas to gather and feel connected to each other. Just last month, we opened Yonders Point, southwest of the baseball fields in Old Settlers Park, for families to gather and enjoy an amazing view of Bright Lake. The serene plaza includes landscaping and trees, pergolas with swings, terraced seating and lounges. I encourage you to take your family or friends for a summer picnic to check it out.
We look forward to creating even more beautiful spaces for residents to continue enjoying the beautiful outdoors, and to build on the quality of life that makes Round Rock residents proud to call this place their home.