How one man’s Facebook post about Barton Creek Greenbelt trash went viral, inspired cleanup

Jason Bowles posted these photos of trash surrounding Campbells Hole on the Barton Creek Greenbelt. Photo by Jason Bowles

A Facebook post showing mounds of trash near a popular swimming hole inspired an impromptu cleanup on the Barton Creek Greenbelt this week.

Austin climber Jason Bowles posted photos Thursday showing piles of empty beer cans, Styrofoam coolers, booze bottles, broken glass and food wrappers surrounding Campbell’s Hole. He described the scene as a “damn tragedy” and berated the litterers as “delinquent ignorant immature pieces of (expletive deleted).” He also described what he’d do if he caught someone leaving trash behind and asked people to keep the greenbelt green.

Broken glass, beer cans and more were strewn on the ground. Photo by Jason Bowles

Today, a sweet update.

Bowles appeared last night in a segment on local TV news station KXAN. Bowles said while crews were filming the spot, several people he’d never met showed up to pick up trash at the site. The station interviewed them, and they mentioned they’d seen Bowles’ Facebook post “and wanted to help.”

In a post Thursday night, he thanked those who helped gather the trash. “Such incredible community! This is why I love Austin.”

Bowles’ original post has been shared almost 1,600 times.

Jason Bowles’ Facebook post about the litter was shared nearly 1,600 times. Photo by Jason Bowles

What’s jet surfing? Watch here!

Summertime means lake time here in Central Texas, and this morning I discovered a new way to recreate on Lake Travis – a jet surfer.

First reaction? Whoa!

I’m a slalom water skier, so I’m used to high-adrenalin water sports. I was a little leery of this motorized surfboard, though, which is powered by a small motor inside the board that pumps a jet stream of water out the back end.

The boards can reach top speeds of 35 miles per hour. Riders control speed via a hand-held throttle and steer by shifting their weight.

With some good coaching from instructor Jamie Naugle at Jetsurf ATX, I managed to scramble onto the board on my first attempt. It bucked me off after less than 10 seconds, but after that it was pretty easy to figure out. I zipped all around a cove without too much trouble, although I found left-hand turns way easier than right, or toe-side, turns.

Pam LeBlanc jetsurfs with Jetsurf Academy ATX on Lake Travis on Thursday June 29, 2017. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

 

Downside? The buzz of the motor sounds a little like an incoming swarm of robotic mosquitoes.

Kyle Ray (that’s him in the video), owner and founder of the Jetsurf Academy here in Austin, demonstrated some nifty tricks. He jumped wakes, made sharp turns and spun out like a motocross rider.

Jetsurf Academy offers instruction Thursday through Sunday. Cost is $125 for a one-hour session or $60 for a 30-minute discovery session. For more information go here.

Look for my upcoming story in the Austin American-Statesman.

How did Austin fare on list of Most Adventurous Cities in America?

We’re a pretty adventurous place, Austin.

Only Anchorage, Alaska ranked higher than our city in Men’s Health magazine’s list of Most Adventurous Cities in America. And they’ve got grizzly bears and icebergs, for goodness sake.

The magazine took into account the percentage of people participating in sports, the percentage of people who engage in vigorous activity five or more days a week, the ratio of parkland to city size, the number of recreational businesses, the percentage of income spent on recreation and more when it compiled its list. It based its calculations on an array of statistical information from the Centers for Disease Control, the Trust for Public Land, the U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics.

The magazine cited Austin’s access to the Highland Lakes in its ranking as the second most adventurous city in America. File photo by Rodolfo Gonzalez/American-Statesman

Austin scored points because lots of people participate in outdoor activity here, and do it often. Credit the lakes, too. (Although last time I checked, our lakes were more about drinking beer and lounging on boats than actually doing adventurous things). We do have a healthy community of trail runners, stand-up paddleboarders, yogis, cyclists and kayakers. Plus, we’ve got 227 official miles of trails (and a lot more that aren’t exactly official), nearly 21,000 acres of green space and that awesome trail around Lady Bird Lake.

Men’s Health Magazine ranks Austin the second most adventurous city in America.

Anchorage smoked us in the parkland department. The much chillier city has nearly a million acres of parkland, plus plenty of residents who take advantage of it and lots of businesses that cater to those people.

Boaters gather in Devils Cove on Lake Travis. File photo by Laura Skelding/ AMERICAN-STATESMAN

The top 10 Most Adventurous Cities in America, according to Men’s Health, are Anchorage; Austin; Madison, Wisc.; Minneapolis; San Diego; Raleigh; Virginia Beach, Virginia; Boston; Seattle; and Fargo, South Dakota.

Austin blew away every other Texas city, too. Fort Worth placed 20th. Other Texas cities on the list? Dallas at 34, Plano at 35, San Antonio at 37, Houston at 38, El Paso at 40, Laredo at 46, Lubbock at 50 and Corpus Christi at 55. (Wait, Plano is more adventurous than Corpus? What about that ocean?)

Birmingham, Alabama came in last, at number 100.

Check out the entire list here.

The latest fitness craze? Pre-work dance parties from Daybreaker

Daybreaker will bring an ocean-themed early morning fitness class and dance party to Native Hostel on Wednesday. Photo courtesy Daybreaker

 

If I don’t start my workout session by 7 a.m., it’s not going to happen. I’ve got to exercise first thing or it’ll get pushed off my schedule. And I hate that.

Anyone else like me out there?

If you’re an early birder, check out the Daybreaker pre-work dance party tomorrow (Wednesday, June 28). The alcohol-free early morning dance party starts with a fitness class from 6 to 7 a.m., followed by a dance party from 7 to 9 a.m.

Groovy!

This month’s theme is Aqua Boogie. The ocean-themed dance party takes place at Native Hostel, 807 E. Fourth Street. (Make the commute easy by booking a room!)

Melody Afkami will teach the dance fitness portion of the morning. Riders Against the Storm, the hip hop duo of Chaaka and Qi Dadda, the Band of the Year at the 2014 and 2015 Austin Music Awards, will perform, and DJ Manny will spin music.

Tickets are $30 for the fitness class and dance party; the dance only is $20. The slumber party package, which includes a room at the hostel tonight, costs $60.

For more information or tickets, go here.

For a fun day trip, kayak the San Marcos River

 

(Drone footage by Chris LeBlanc)

 

I’ve suddenly become a paddling junkie, with recent trips down the Llano River, the Devils River and the Pedernales River.

Recently, I headed south on Interstate 35 with a couple of kayaks loaded into the back of the pickup for a three-hour leisurely spin down the San Marcos River.

We unloaded our kayaks at the Olympic Outdoor Center, located at 602 North Interstate 35, and arranged to for someone to pick us up when we pulled out a few hours later. Besides shuttle pickups, which cost $10 per person, the center offers paddling lessons, rentals and guided trips.

I hadn’t paddled this stretch of the San Marcos River. We pushed our boats into the water at about 11 a.m., before (we realized later), the hordes arrived.

Start early to avoid crowds. Photo by Pam LeBlanc

We didn’t know what to expect. We glided past a couple practicing yoga on their standup paddleboards, then quickly approached Cape’s Dam, a 150-year-old, man-made drop-off. We followed signs that pointed left, into the Mill Race, a channel that allows paddlers to bypass the dam. Ten minutes down that channel, we pulled off and dragged our kayaks over a spit of land and back into the main river channel.

We paddled another 15 minutes without seeing anyone, then met up with a group of five or six guys out for an easy kayak trip. The river’s shady in this stretch; towering trees stretch their leafy arms over the river, providing protection from the searing Texas sun. Birds chirp, water flows clear and cool, and the buzz of the city doesn’t penetrate.

Chris LeBlanc paddles around a mat of trash on the San Marcos River. Photo by Pam LeBlanc

But it’s also full of trash. We encountered mats of floating debris – river grass entwined with plastic bottlers, beer cans, lost flip flops and two full-sized garbage cans.

After a while, the San Marcos River merges with the Blanco River, and runs wide and deep until you reach Cummings Dam. Pay attention to the warning signs; you don’t want to go over this one. It’s about a 20-foot drop, but paddlers can portage via a wooden staircase on river right.

We portaged around Cummings Dam. Photo by Pam LeBlanc

We dragged our boats down the stairs and off onto the rocky beach below and went for a swim. (Watch the currents here; they’re extremely strong in places and could be hazardous to even strong swimmers. The bottom is slippery clay.)

After an hour of lollygagging, we got back in our boats. After another 30 minutes of easy paddling, we came around a bend and I thought I saw a couple of people standing in the river.

Pam LeBlanc relaxes below Cummings Dam. Photo by Chris LeBlanc

I was wrong. I saw a couple of hundred people standing in the river.

We’d arrived at the drop-off point for Don’s Fish Camp, a tubing operation that’s especially popular with college-age students. Just up the hill, a seemingly never-ending stream of old school buses was disgorging customers, who were putting in for float trips.

Note to self: To avoid crowds, get an early start.

We called the Olympic Outdoor Center and alerted them that we were ready for pickup. The center was short-staffed at the time, and we waited an hour before our driver arrived. The upside? Great people watching. The downside? Hot and dusty.

The toughest part about paddling explorations is often logistics. This worked great. We put in, called for pickup, and were delivered (after that wait, of course) back to the center, where we loaded our boats back into the truck and headed across the interstate for a late lunch at Herbert’s, an old-school, inexpensive Mexican food restaurant.

For more information about the Olympic Outdoor Center, go to http://www.kayakinstruction.org.

Pam LeBlanc paddled the San Marcos River recently. Photo by Chris LeBlanc

Another option? Paddler and photographer Karla Held, whom I met while paddling the Pedernales River a few months ago, is now offering weekly guided paddling trips on the Upper Guadalupe River.

Meet her at Bergheim Campground (http://bergheimcampground.com/), 103 White Water Road in Boerne, at 10 a.m. Wednesday. The trip costs $10 per person and includes shuttle. You can bring your own kayak or rent one ($35 from the campground or $25 for one of Held’s whitewater versions). For more information, email Held at karlaheld@hotmail.com or call her at (909) 297-6391.

Want a say in future of Shoal Creek Trail? Attend Wednesday meeting

A meeting to discuss the future of the Shoal Creek hike and bike trail is planned for 6 p.m. Wednesday. Photo by Holly Henderson for American-Statesman

Want a say in what the Shoal Creek hike and bike trail looks like five years from now?

The Shoal Creek Conservancy is hosting a series of community meetings to help plan improvements to the trail, which now extends from Lady Bird Lake to 38th Street.

The first meeting is set for 6-8 p.m. Wednesday, June 21 in the conference center at Cirrus Logic, 700 West Avenue. Other meetings are planned for Sept. 13 at Congregation Beth Israel and Nov. 15 at another location farther north.

The Shoal Creek Trail runs along Lamar Boulevard from downtown Austin to 38th Street. Photo by Holly Henderson for the American-Statesman

 

The conservancy, a non-profit group formed in 2013, is partnering wtih the city of Austin to create a plan to improve and extend the trail. The group focuses on not just the trail, but a 13-square-mile watershed area around the creek.

The group hopes to improve signage along the 4-mile existing route, widen sidewalks from 15th to 29th streets and create cohesive design standards for the entire route, which eventually could cover 11 miles in a combination of on-street and separated pathways.

“Imagine biking or walking on a continuous pathway from downtown to the Domain. stopping along the way to learn about the history of Austin and see places like Seider Springs,” says Joanna Wolaver, executive director of the group. “It’s not just about infrastructure, it’s about access to nature and the stories of Austin.”

The group is taking input now and hopes to make recommendations to the Austin City Council in October. For more information go here or call 512-474-2412.

Can a silicon wedding band save your finger?

A silicon wedding ring comes in handy for athletes and people who work with heavy machinery. Pam LeBlanc tries one by Rinfit  here – in the real world, she’d take off that other metal ring, too. Photo by Pam LeBlanc

One day I’m rappelling down a 38-story building, another I’m water skiing on Lake Austin, the next I’m mountain biking through the Hill Country.

No wonder my engagement ring has broken three times recently, requiring multiple trips to the jewellery shop to have it re-soldered.

It finally dawned on me that maybe wearing a platinum ring on the job wasn’t such a good idea. Besides breaking the ring, I could accidentally pop my finger off if it got caught on something. Yuck.

But taking my wedding band on and off isn’t really an option either, because I lose things constantly. I didn’t want that.

So when I heard about inexpensive silicon bands for athletes and people who work with heavy machinery, I decided to test one out.

Groove makes a breathable, silicon ring that comes in original or thin styles. Photo courtesy Groove

 

Groove sent me a sizing kit with an assortment of bands designed to break free if they get caught on something. They’re also breathable, and come with a lifetime warranty, so if you do snap one, the company will replace it. Groove makes an original or thin version, in an array of colors. Both styles sell for $29.95 here.

I also tried an even cheaper version of rubbery ring made by Rinfit. A three-pack (pink, green and turquoise) sells for $16.99 here. I can wear a different color with every outfit if I want.

The Groove rings are a little fancier – some are one color inside and a different color on the outside. Both brands are comfortable and easy to take on and off. I wouldn’t describe any of them as actually pretty, but they are functional.

And if they help keep my fingers on my hand where they belong, that makes it worth it. I’ll save the real rings for dress up days.

New bike and pedestrian bridge over Barton Creek opens

It just got a whole lot easier to commute by bike from southwest Austin to downtown.

The bicycle and pedestrian bridge over Loop 360 and Barton Creek opened this week, and I took an 8-mile detour just so I roll along the new, ultra smooth stretch of concrete.

The verdict? Fantastic.

The new bike and pedestrian path across Loop 360 and Barton Creek has opened. Photo by Pam LeBlanc

 

I pedaled from Barton Springs west to the access road of MoPac, then rode the sidewalk south all the way to the new path, which crosses Loop 360 with two short spans, then leaps over the Barton Creek gorge with a 1,100-foot bridge.

A lane line divides the northbound from southbound traffic on the path, which curves and climbs and swoops and rolls for more than a mile. It towers 70 feet above Barton Creek at one spot.

It’s been a long wait. Construction on the 14-foot wide path, first suggested in 2005, began in early 2014. Crews encountered problems along the way, including deeper bedrock than expected. They had to redesign footings.

Last July, Statesman reporter Ben Wear reported that the bridges would open in stages by the end of the year. That didn’t happen, but today’s cruise triggered a smile that wrapped all the way across my face.

Proponents of the $14.1 million project say the route will encourage people who wouldn’t brave the access roads of MoPac on their bicycles to pedal into the city center. The trail provides easy access to Barton Springs, Zilker Park, the Butler Hike and Bike Trail around Lady Bird lake and more. It’s now possible to bike, off street, from U.S. 290 all the way to the river.

The city of Austin and Texas Department of Transportation split the cost of the project.

 

 

Bike Austin: Charges against driver who hit four cyclists not harsh enough

(Laura Skelding / 2014 American-Statesman)

The relatively minor charges filed against the driver of a car that crashed into a group of cyclists over the weekend send the wrong message, according to officials with a non-profit organization that promotes cycling.

Devin Donnel Rodriguez, 25, was charged with driving with an invalid license after the the Buick sedan he was driving hit and injured four cyclists riding near South Pleasant Valley Road and Elmont Drive early Saturday. All four cyclists were taken to Dell Seton Medical Center. One was bleeding inside her brain, according to a police affidavit.

Rodriguez told police he fell asleep at the wheel before the crash, the affidavit said. He remained at the scene to talk with authorities after the incident.

“While we understand that the investigation is still under way, we are concerned that the driver was only issued a ticket for driving with an invalid license,” said Mercedes Feris, executive director of Bike Austin, a non-profit organization that works to encourage cycling in the Austin area. “When reckless driving is a contributing factor in a crash, more serious charges should be leveled – or the Austin Police Department and media outlets should at least mention that other charges may be pending. It sends a dangerous signal to other drivers when the only punishment after a serious crash is a slap on the wrist.”

A passenger in Rodriguez’s vehicle, Amanda Sanchez Flores, 32, fled the scene, police said. According to her arrest affidavit, she stole a Jeep Grand Cherokee from a man who had stopped to help the injured cyclists. She was later arrested on South Pleasant Valley Road.

Flores was charged with auto theft and possession of a controlled substance. She is being held at the Travis County Jail with bail set at $25,000. Rodriguez is also in the Travis County Jail with bail set at $7,500.

Feris said she hoped all the injured cyclists recovered quickly from their injuries.

“This crash illustrates the need for protected bike lanes, especially on major streets like Pleasant Valley Road, to keep everyone out of each other’s way, and out of harm’s way,” she said.

“The incident is also a reminder of the grave responsibility every Austinite shoulders when they get behind the wheel. The driver, who claims to have fallen asleep while driving, was clearly too drowsy to be driving. Drowsy driving is dangerous driving, and it shouldn’t be attempted under any circumstances.”

New City Running Tour includes beer, live music at Antone’s

 

Running, music, beer – for some, it’s the perfect combination.

That’s why City Running Tours is unveiling a new event, the Antone’s Music 5K.

City Running Tours has unveiled a new tour that includes a show at Antone’s. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Participants in the tour get a guided 5K casual run around the most prominent music heritage sites and current hotspots in the “Live Music Capitol of the World,” plus a live show at Clifford Antone’s famous blues venue, Antone’s.

The Antone’s Music 5K tour is scheduled for 6 p.m. Saturday. Another is planned for July 15. Cost is $30 and includes a beer and entry into Antone’s.

The company also offers running tours that include stops at local breweries, a tour of the University of Texas campus, a ghosts and bats tour, and one that focuses on nature.

On the road? Take your running shoes. City Running Tours offers tours in more than a dozen cities across the United States and Canada, from Atlanta and New York City to San Francisco, Chicago, Denver and Washington, D.C.

For more information or to register, go here.