Could East Austin's Tejano Trails Keep Gentrification at Bay?
The Tejano Trails in East Austin are meant to highlight landmarks and legends of the area, but they’re not easy to find. Groups are now working to make the history of this neighborhood more visible under the guidance of a National Parks Service program.
Last fall, the Scoot Inn, the oldest continuing running bar in Central Texas, made for a fitting location for an event promoting the next phase of Austin’s Tejano Trails.
"We thought if we created a historical and cultural walking trail, that the newcomers coming might work with our neighborhood association and the planning team and instead of bulldozing everything, at least preserve some of the façade," says Lori Renteria, the Tejano Trails coordinator for the East Cesar Chavez Neighborhood Planning Team.
Renteria says the idea is to promote and protect historical landmarks in East Austin as development pushes east.
"If we can’t stop the bulldozers, at least there’ll be a legacy of what once was a very strong, close-knit Mexican-American community with a whole lot of history," she says.
There are two trails. The Trail of Tejano Music Legends, created by the Austin Latino Music Association, points out music legends from the 40s and 50s. The second route is the Tejano Healthy Walking Trail, which includes historic structures like the Austin National Fish Hatchery. Both trails have been designated as national recreation trails by the National Parks Service.
"We have the first public housing in America built in this neighborhood. We have the first affordable housing for low-income seniors – they're now called tax credit projects, back in the day they were an experiment," Renteria says. "We have the first first-time home buying program for minorities and veterans in our neighborhood. We’d never have discovered these things had we not taken on our project."
The volunteers promoting the trails are receiving guidance through the Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance program run by the National Parks Service.
Justin Bates is one of the program’s community planners. He says the program had never received an application for work on trails like these before.
"This is a really unique project. It’s kind of the first time we’ve worked with a project that’s like this," Bates says. "Oftentimes our assistance goes to projects that are really what you typically think of as parks – parks and trails, that kind of thing. But in this case it’s an urban trail that really focuses on the heritage and culture of the neighborhood."
Independent groups will be developing the project through the spring, and then join forces to come up with a strategic plan, Bates adds.
"A document that will really guide the development of these trails moving forward – it’ll provide some guidance in terms of where the trails are, what they look like and how they’ll be maintained over time," he says.
Renteria says because of the Parks Service’s assistance, other groups have also agreed to help promote walking in the area.
"The National Park Service helped us get a governance structure, helped us find a financial nonprofit sponsor – the Austin Parks Foundation," Renteria adds. "They’ve brought the major partners to the table – Capital Metro, the RBJ advisory board, major landowners, and we now have a solid public-private partnership with people committed to the idea of having a walking, sustainable neighborhood."
Renteria says some people question why the team puts so much time and effort into a neighborhood that’s bound to change. "You're not going to save the neighborhood. These little warehouses with the pedicabs are only here till some high rise comes in," she says. "Well, we feel like this will be our legacy. If we end up being like the downtown towers we can see now, we’re going to do our best to stop them at I-35. It’s a barrier we now like. And if we lose there’s a legacy. It will say guess what, there used to be Tejanos that lived on the East Side."
If nothing else, she says, people might take a walk on the trails while they wait for a table at a new restaurant.