Lady Bird Lake

Lady Bird Lake Trail Austin

Austin Parks and Recreation
Written By Austin Parks and Recreation

We work to inspire Austin to learn, play, protect and connect by creating diverse programs and experiences in sustainable natural spaces and public places.

Yes, it looks like a river. But it's actually a reservoir created by Austin in 1960 as a cooling pond for the city power plant. Lady Bird Lake (or Town Lake, as it was known then) was formed by the construction of Longhorn Dam. It is fed by water from Cold Springs near Deep Eddy.  

Today, the lake is an idyllic place to paddle and take in the city skyline. But it wasn't always the clean and peaceful oasis it is today. Back in the early 70s, the shoreline was a trash-and-weed-filled eyesore. Though clean-up efforts were initiated, none were particularly successful. It wasn't until Roy Butler, the mayor at the time, formed the Town Lake Beautification Committee and appointed Lady Bird Johnson honorary head of the committee that the lake saw changes. The former first lady championed the project, donating $19,000 to the efforts. The money and attention she garnered facilitated the planting of shrubs and trees as well as the creation of the trails along the shoreline.

During her lifetime Lady Bird Johnson declined to be honored for her efforts, however, in 2007 the city council passed an ordinance renaming the reservoir Lady Bird Lake in thanks for her dedication to beautifying the area. (Although many people still refer to it as Town Lake.) The nonprofit, Keep Austin Beautiful, ensures it stays the way Lady Bird Johnson left it by launching community clean-ups throughout the year.

The shoreline encompasses a full five miles, encircled by The Ann and Roy Butler Hike and Bike Trail. Though swimming is prohibited here, the lake is a favorite for paddlers. Kayakers, Stand Up Paddle Boarders, canoers, and rowers can always be found on the water here. Only non-motorized boats are allowed. Fishing is also a popular activity at Lady Bird Lake. 

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Fun fact: The Congress Avenue Bridge, which spans Lady Bird Lake, is home to the world's largest urban bat colony. Up to 1.5 million bats live in the crevices of the bridge, and every night at dusk they emerge and fly across the lake to find food. It is a nightly ritual for people to come watch this amazing sight from the water, shoreline, or bridge.

Every year, the lake is also home to the annual Duck Derby benefitting the Boys and Girls Club. People adopt 15,000 toy rubber duckies, which are then dropped from the Congress Avenue Bridge into the water. The fire department shoots water at them, and the adoptees of the first ones to cross the finish line win exciting prizes. It's always a fun day that raises money for a good cause.

With all the recreational, educational, and philanthropic events happening here throughout the year, Lady Bird would be proud of her lake, that's actually a reservoir, and looks like a river.

Cover photo credit: Shane Pope via Flickr.

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