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History of The Butler Trail

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In the heart of Austin are the Ann and Roy Butler Hike-and-Bike Trail at Lady Bird Lake, a lush, urban path that meanders along the water’s edge and passes by skyscrapers, neighborhoods, ball fields, and cultural attractions. With more than 5 million visits a year, the 10-mile hike-and-bike Trail is Austin’s most recognized and popular recreational area.

But the Trail is more than a great pathway—it is where Austin thrives. For many citizens and visitors, it represents the best Austin offers: outdoor recreation; a scenic, natural environment; and a diverse, vibrant mix of people.

The Trail grew out of a sense of community spirit and responsibility, and that same enthusiasm and devotion will protect it for future generations. The Trail came to life during the 1970s thanks to a unique public-private civic effort led by the Citizen’s Committee for a “more beautiful Town Lake.”

Citizen's Committee

Lady Bird Johnson served as the Honorary Chairman of the Citizen’s Committee, and the Co-Chairmen were Mrs. John Burns and Les Gage. The other original members included:

Mrs. T Hardie Bowman

Mrs. Roy Butler

Hallie Burns

Mrs. Cecil Cabaniss

W. W. Coates

Mrs. Tom Curtis

Ralph Curton

Bill Davidson

Pat Davis

Mrs. Bud Dryden

Russell Fish

Craig Kennedy

Mrs. Jack Kidd

Mrs. Lowell Lebermann

Mrs. Dan Love

Mrs. Stuart Long

Mrs. Leon Lurie

Vic Mathias

Mrs. Frank McBee Jr.

Bill McLaughlin

Mrs. James Means

Mrs. Charles Morrison

Charlie Muller

Richard Mycue

Mrs. Jack Neff

Jim Pfluger

Mrs. Morin Scott

Mrs. Stephen Spurr

Mrs. David Tiller

Mrs. Felder Thornhill

Mrs. James W. Wilson

In 2003, the Town Lake Trail Foundation (now The Trail Conservancy) was formed to continue the work of the Citizen’s Committee and ensure that the Trail remains one of Austin’s outstanding places.


LBJ Library Photo by Frank Wolfe

Lady Bird Johnson poses by Town Lake 04/07/1974
LBJ Library Photo by Frank Wolfe

History of the Ann and Roy Butler Hike-and-Bike Trail

In the 1960s, Austin’s Colorado River banks were nothing like the lush oasis they are now. The area was nearly barren. Floods, common in the Hill Country then, regularly swept trees and brushed them away. The tree-lined shores of today are a result of the stability introduced by damming the river.

Austin’s first dam, where the current Tom Miller Dam resides, was constructed from 1890 to 1893 and named The Great Granite Dam. That structure was destroyed by a massive flood and later rebuilt as Austin Dam from 1909 to 1912. This second dam was also destroyed by flood. These floods also wiped out the great majority of trees that lined the river. In 1940, the current Tom Miller Dam was built atop the remains of the previous structures.

In 1959, Austin grew considerably in electric demand because the population increased, and TV and air conditioning use grew. The Seaholm Power Plant did not have room for more units, and Austin needed another power plant. The Holly land was available, but there was no source of cooling water. Longhorn Dam would create a lake that would provide a reservoir for cooling water and also create a lake through Austin. Brown and Root designed the dam, and H.B. Zachary built it. The dam’s name relates to the use of a crossing at that location as a ford across the Colorado for longhorn drives as part of the Chisolm Trail in the late 19th century.

Roberta Crenshaw laid the groundwork for Austin’s Town Lake parklands. The Town Lake Beautification Committee was formed in 1971. The Committee included many notable Austin citizens, including honorary chair Lady Bird Johnson, Les Gage, Ann Butler, Carolyn Curtis, Emma Long, Betty Wilson, and Jim Pfluger, among others. In cooperation with Mayor Roy Butler, they set out to create a scenic corridor of hiking trails and landscaping that would allow residents and visitors the opportunity for a rural escape in an urban setting. Gazebos at Auditorium Shores (S. 1st St. at Riverside) and Lou Neff Point (where Barton Springs flows into Lady Bird Lake) were dedicated around this time. In 2007, following the death of Lady Bird Johnson, the lake was renamed Lady Bird Lake. In 2011, the Town Lake Hike-and-Bike Trail was renamed the Ann and Roy Butler Hike-and-Bike Trail.

Ann & Roy Butler and The Trail

Ann and Roy Butler were instrumental in the beautification of the Trail. Roy Butler was elected Mayor of Austin in 1971 and was re-elected two years later. During his time in office, he—along with Lady Bird Johnson and Ann Butler, among others—formed the Town Lake Beautification Committee, aimed at beautifying the banks of what was then known as “Town Lake.” At that time, the banks of Lady Bird Lake, as it is known today, were polluted, barren, and covered with weeds.

The beautification of the hike-and-bike Trail began as a vision by Lady Bird Johnson—the wife of former President Lyndon Johnson—and Mrs. Butler. In 1971, Mayor Butler was asked to go to Switzerland as a delegate to the International Conference of Mayors. After the conference, he and Mrs. Butler went to Russia with a delegation of mayors and passed through London on their way home. While in London, Mrs. Butler met up with Lady Bird Johnson, who she knew was staying at the same hotel. The two women were admiring a stretch of the Thames Path—a beautiful, green trail—from the balcony when Mrs. Johnson asked Mrs. Butler if it was something that could be created along Austin’s Town Lake. Mrs. Butler said yes, and looked to her husband, Mayor Butler, for help. On that balcony, Mr. and Mrs. Butler and Mrs. Johnson came up with the idea of the Committee’s largest fundraiser at the LBJ Ranch in 1973. Mrs. Butler even persuaded Texas International to fly significant donors to the LBJ Ranch from Houston. Additionally, Mrs. Butler personally enlisted the services of all of Austin’s garden clubs to help with the maintenance of the beautification project, allowing them to adopt portions of the Trail, grow seasonal plants and maintain sprinklers, among other things.

Decades after its birth, the Trail stands as a testament to the vision and hard work of many individuals and the support of the citizens of Austin. The Trail Conservancy’s resolve is to see that their work is carried forward for generations.