The first phase has begun on a multi-decade-long project that will ultimately serve to make Abilene prettier and give residents a fun place for recreation and economic expansion. And it’s all thanks to one nonprofit and a bunch of toilet water.
The Cedar Creek Waterway will link six Abilene parks with trails along Cedar Creek on the east side of town. The trails will run 12 miles as the crow flies from Kirby Lake Park, located just south of the Loop, to Seabee Park, north of I-20.
The waterway will also run through or next to Kirby Park, Cal Young Park, Stevenson Park and Will Hair Park, located a few blocks from ACU’s campus.
Phase 1 of the plan includes the middle section of the waterway, from North 10th street to South 11th.
Eventually the waterway will run north from Kirby Lake to Fort Phantom Lake.
The project’s vision includes kayaking, horseback riding, outdoor concerts, restaurants, dams and waterfalls.
The creek is not as interesting today. With less than three inches of rainfall since September, most of the creek is dried up. Some puddles dot the skinny waterbed here and there, while other stretches of the creek are up to three feet deep.
The additional water would be recycled water from the city, which already carries up to 4 million gallons per day to college campuses (so yes, that is former sewage water in ACU’s sprinkler system), golf courses and lakes in Abilene. With an increased amount of recycled water directed to Kirby Lake and its spillway into Cedar Creek, the creek would be able to flow all the way through consistently, according to the organization planning the project.
However, today it’s easier to find trash in the creek than knee or waist-deep water. That’s one of the issues holding the waterway back that infuriates Randy Barnett, one of the project’s organizers, who said a large amount of tires and couches get dumped into or near the creek by people “too lazy to haul it to the appropriate place.” He said one time he even found a grand piano dumped in the creek.
A few weeks ago, more than a dozen students and faculty from the Department of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences cleaned up a portion of the creek for about four hours.
Barnett said current freshmen and sophomores should be able to see the first effects of the waterway development while they’re still at ACU. But the entire project won’t be done anytime soon. In fact, it’s barely begun.
Cedar Creek Waterway Development, a nonprofit organization created to support the waterway, is seeking permission from private property owners along the trail in Phase 1 to allow the public to walk and bike on the trail. It’s taking longer than expected.
“Unfortunately, the city doesn’t own all the property, so there’s a number of private land owners that we’re having to appeal to for them to grant us easements for the public to go across their property,” Barnett said. “We had hoped to have that done by now.”
Barnett said one of the three landowners yet to agree to the easements is Union Pacific Railroad, which ones the property below the bridge for its track that runs across the creek. Another is a decommissioned power plan. Its owner, American Electric Power, is trying to sell it.
Until the landowners agree to the plan, the organization can’t move forward with the next step in Phase 1: setting up fences to keep out litterers and establishing trail markers.
“We have a budget of $10,000 to build some gates and barriers to keep the dumpers out of here and to get the trail signs up so citizens can use the trail,” Barnett said. “We’d like to have the trail set up so people can use it. That will spread the word and encourage people to encourage the city council that this is a great project and we’d like to expand it.”
Some students hope the trail becomes open to the public soon.
“I’m really looking forward to the completion of the trail,” said Jonathan Martin, junior biology major from San Antonio and president of the Triathlon Club. “Outside of the Lunsford Trail, there are few places to bike and run long distances safely.”
For more information or to get involved with the project, go to www.cedarcreekdevelopment.org or email Barnett at firstname.lastname@example.org.