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Birds, Wildlife and Gardening

Playing at revamped Kingsbury Commons in Pease Park

July 12, 2021

I recently rounded up the family to explore the newly redesigned section of Austin’s Pease Park known as Kingsbury Commons. The biggest draw for me was seeing the Treehouse, a rusty orb of rebar and steel beams — less a treehouse than a giant ball of pollen!

The Treehouse

A bridge trail around back leads you into the orb, where, incredibly, you’re invited to walk or tumble onto a rope net “floor” that’s two stories high.

David popped right out there and sat down in the sagging center, looking up into the tree canopy all around. I paced around the vertigo-inducing catwalk with my heights-averse daughter before deciding, what the hell, let’s do this. Oh so gracefully I held onto a support post, backed onto the net, trying not to look through it at the ground, and slid onto my butt. Then I scooched forward until I was really and truly on the net and lay back to enjoy the view.

It was pretty cool. Lights dangle above for a “firefly” experience at night. I will have to go back and try it after dark sometime.

Wavy rebar radiates from the central opening above, creating a fragile sense of enclosure.

From below you can look up at people on the net or sit in a council ring of stacked limestone boulders.

It’s a surprising feature for a public park, not only in appearance but in the “thrill of danger” and excitement it offers. It can even be rented out for private events.

Tudor Cottage plaza

Nearby, an old structure known as the Tudor Cottage has also been repurposed as an event rental, with a clean-lined patio terrace and biergarten seating.

Amphitheater

Along the same path, near brand-new restrooms, limestone terracing doubles as an amphitheater for live performances or just eating lunch in the park.

Looking downslope, a natural spring that used to feed into underground pipes has been “daylighted” — i.e., brought above ground. It flows through a seep-like garden of river rock and native plants like bald cypress and visually links with a watery splash pad at the bottom of the hill. Austin’s own Christy Ten Eyck of Ten Eyck Landscape Architects was the lead designer for Kingsbury Commons, so you know the design is awesome and native plants are a key feature.

Splash pad

The splash pad looks much more natural than such features typically look. No colorful rubberized mats here, just stone and concrete and water bubbling up in fountains, as if spring-fed.

I took off my shoes and waded through the back of the splash pad, where the fountains can be dodged. An oval of large river rocks in the center adds to the verisimilitude.

Stumpery

Young architects are encouraged in a stumpery, where tree trunks, branches, and stumps offer an opportunity for building forts and unprogrammed play. Although it looks a little weedy and muddy after recent rains, I can see kids also using them for balance beams or make-believe adventures.

Playground

Even a more traditional playground has some surprising features, like this seesaw swing. It takes two, and both seats not only swing around but pivot up and down on a teetering arm.

Beds of native plants surround the play equipment. I hope they survive the onslaught of kids!

A tall fence of rusty steel mesh hems in stray balls on the new basketball court.

Open lawns and tree-shaded lawns offer space for play and picnicking, and we saw a giant chess board on the ground alongside one path too.

Picnic tables

Long picnic tables built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s remain, with new trees, lighting, and BBQ grills.

This space can be rented out too, but through August 2021 tables are free on a first-come, first-served basis for parties of up to 50 people. Party planners, start your engines.

Squirrel Fest coming soon

For 56 years Pease Park has hosted one of Austin’s oldest festivals, the hippie-and-costume fest (or no costume at all) known as Eeyore’s Birthday Party. Covid shut down the fun for the past two years, but Eeyore will finally get his red balloon again next April. Meanwhile, a grand-opening event called Squirrel Fest has been announced for September 10th at Pease Park. Mark your calendars and get ready to shake those bushy tails!

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