Best way to get to Austin’s new Central Library? By bike, of course!

Cyclists park their bikes in racks in the bike corral at Austin’s new Central Library. PAM LeBLANC/American-Statesman

UPDATES to add that city will hire vendor to run bike concierge service at library.

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Have you visited the new Central Library in downtown Austin yet?

Go. And travel by bicycle, if possible.

I pedaled down to the new library at 710 West Cesar Chavez Street yesterday, and parked my steel steed in the special bike “corral” on the lower east side of the building. The garage-like space is outfitted to store about 200 bikes, many of them on staggered metal racks, says John W. Gillum, facilities process manager at the library.

The bike garage at the new library features about 100 metal racks for bike storage. PAM LeBLANC/American-Statesman

Right now, it’s free to use your own lock and park on a rack in the bike corral. That will probably change sometime next year, after the library partners with a vendor to offer a bike concierge service.

In the next few weeks, the city will put out a request for proposals to find a vendor to operate a bike valet service, offer light bicycle maintenance to library patrons and possibly rent bicycles. Crews will also install eight or 10 more bike racks around the outside of the building.

Want to get to the library? Ride a bike. PAM LeBLANC/American-Statesman

“We’re going to be able to keep a lot of people’s bikes secure for them,” Gillum says.

The bike barn is just one fitness-friendly aspect of the new building, which opened Saturday.

RELATED: An early tour of Austin’s new Central Library

The Shoal Creek hike and bike trail abuts the east side of the structure, so you can easily access the library by foot or on two wheels from the Butler Trail on Lady Bird Lake. The Shoal Creek trail is still closed a block north of the library, but when it opens you’ll be able to avoid even more car traffic. As it is now, you can bike down West Avenue, turn east just north of the library and hop onto the trail to get to the library. The bike garage is marked with a larger-than-life logo of a bike.

RELATED: Austin’s new library opens to rave reviews

Chris LeBlanc tests out some tools at the bike station adjacent to the new Central Library in downtown Austin. PAM LeBLANC/American-Statesman

Need to adjust your handlebars or raise or lower your seat? A bike repair station, with an array of tools anyone can use for free, has been installed on the trail beneath the yellow-arched bridge just to the northeast of the library. Since it’s covered, you can fix a flat or do whatever you need to do while sheltered from rain or searing sunshine.

Even the library’s interior, with its suspended stairways, encourages people to walk rather than take the elevator. Who wants to get closed up in a box while they’re whisked up a few flights when they could stroll the stairs, looking down on the action below?

The suspended staircases encourage people to take the stairs instead of the elevator. PAM LeBLANC/American-Statesman

“That’s by design,” Gillum says. “We’re building the most sustainable building that Austin has ever built and we didn’t want to use escalators, because they’re costly and a maintenance intensive. And, we thought, ‘Let’s give people a place to walk.'”

 

The bike garage is marked wtih a larger-than-life logo of a bicycle. PAM LeBLANC/American-Statesman

 

Coors family member has opened a craft brewery at an Austin surf park

Right now, the brewery is pouring five beers. Five more are coming soon. Pam LeBlanc/American-Statesman

First things first. No, the beer at NLand Brewing Company doesn’t taste like Coors Light, even though the owner’s last name is Coors, and yes, he’s part of that family.

 

And no, Doug Coors doesn’t have much to do with the actual brewing at the new brewery, located inside the gates of the massive surf park on Highway 71 east of Austin. He’s handed that responsibility over to Todd Henry, a local brewer who honed his beer-making chops at places like Lovejoys Tap Room & Brewery and Independence Brewing Company.

Head brewer Todd Henry is focusing on lagers and ales at the new brewery. Pam LeBlanc/American-Statesman

“Coors is a macro brewery, and we’re still doing it craft,” says Henry, who took an hour from manning the big shiny vats of lagers and ales yesterday to explain the concept behind his beer. “They’re going to spill more beer this year than I’m going to make.”

RELATED: At NLand Surf Park, catch a perfect wave every time.

A brewery has opened inside NLand Surf Park east of Austin on Highway 71. Photo by Pam LeBlanc/American-Statesman

NLand unveiled its brewery last month. Right now, the venue is pouring five different beers at the surf-themed patio bar overlooking a 14-acre lagoon, where beginners and experts alike cut across a man-made wave that rolls across the surface every 2 minutes. He’ll add another five in the next few weeks.

On Thursday, I sampled Off Leash IPA, NLand Pale Ale, Peach Party Wheat, Fun Beer, American lager. My fave? The pale ale. I was pleasantly surprised by the Peach Party, too. It didn’t pack the hit-me-in-the-face wallop of peachiness that I feared, but rather a subtle hint of fruit.

Also, the guacamole from the adjacent restaurant, Blue Prairie, is quite good.

For now, NLand Brewing Company is only selling beer on tap – no bottles or cans. And the focus is on beers that go down easily on an afternoon spent surfing.

“They’re all light in body,” Henry says. “They’re mashed to be light and crisp, not full bodied.”

The IPA uses Citra and El Dorado hops for a tropical profile. The pale ale features Cascade and Centennial hops for a citrus/grapefruit profile. (Pro tip: Surf first, drink beer later.)

The brewery is offering specials this weekend. Pam LeBlanc/American-Statesman

RELATED: Is Austin the land-locked surf capitol of the world?

This weekend, the NLand brewery and two other breweries along the Highway 71 corridor are offering specials.

NLand Surf Park is offering a two-for-one surf special for morning sessions through Sunday, and pints of NLand’s American Pilsner for $2 at the brewery. (Other pints are $6.) At Live Oak Brewery down the road, smoke lagers are on special for $1 off on Saturday and Sunday. And St. Elmo Brewing Company is offering $2 Kolsch beers today, plus a free live show by Cowboy Diplomacy at 8 p.m. It’s hosting an Octoberfest event from noon to 8 p.m. Sunday.

For more information about NLand Surf Park go here.

Pam LeBlanc spent an hour surfing before testing out the new beers at the brewery. Photo by Weston Carls

Are McAllen, San Antonio and El Paso really better at exercising than Austin?

A runner uses the Boardwalk on Lady Bird Lake to exercise at dawn.
RALPH BARRERA/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Apparently, we’re not as fit as we think here in Austin, despite those crowded trails and bustling gyms.

The Austin-Round Rock area comes in a disappointing 70th out of 189 U.S. communities in the “Rates of Regular Exercise” report, part of the Gallup-Sharecare State of American Well-Being series.

The study focuses on a single question: “In the last seven days, on how many days did you exercise for 30 or more minutes?” Those who reported exercising for 30 minutes or more, on three or more days in the previous week, were categorized as exercising “regularly.”

In the Austin area, 56.7 percent of those surveyed were categorized as regular exercisers. That’s slightly above the national average of 53.4 percent, the highest since Gallup and Sharecare began measuring in 2008.

That means more than half of respondents claimed they exercised for 30 minutes or more at least three days a week. Which seems a little optimistic, come to think of it.

Even more baffling, the Austin area finished behind three Texas communities usually more associated with high obesity rates than fitness – El Paso, 39th, McAllen-Edinburg-Mission, 40th, and San Antonio-New Braunfels, 65th. We did beat Dallas-Fort Worth, 77th, Corpus Christi, 93rd, Lubbuck, 126th, and Beaumont-Port Arthur, 150th.

Alissa Podber lifts weights at Hyde Park Gym Monday September 12, 2016. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Studies are odd. Depending on the focus, they show different results.

A study released earlier this year by WalletHub, which used data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, listed the McAllen-Edinburg area as the fourth fattest city in the country (it also had the highest percentage of obese adults in the country.) San Antonio-New Braunfels came in 14th; El Paso was 22nd. Austin was 71st on that list.

What gives?

Maybe respondents aren’t answering truthfully. The Gallup-Sharecare study is based on more than 350,000 telephone interviews.

The Gallup-Sharecare study also looked at exercise rates by gender, age, income and race/ethnicity. It found that more males than females are regular exercisers, rates of regular exercisers fall as people age, Hispanics have higher rates of regular exercisers than Asians, whites or blacks, and rates of regular exercisers increase as income rises.

The city with the most regular exercisers? Boulder, Colorado. The city with the fewest? Hickory-Lenoir-Morganton, North Carolina with 41.8 percent.

To see the full report, go here.

Two Austin swimming holes make list of Best Places to Swim

Barton Springs made musician Loudon Wainwright III’s list of Best Places to Swim. RODOLFO GONZALEZ / AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN

 

Two Austin swimming holes made a list of the Best Places for a Swim in a New York Times article penned by touring musician Loudon Wainwright III this weekend.

RELATED: Loudon Wainwright III writes about his favorite places to swim

Barton Springs (of course!) and Deep Eddy (a little more surprising, but bravo!) get mentions alongside oceans, lakes and rivers in Ireland, Australia and Scotland. Watering holes in New York, Rhode Island and California also made the list.

Wainwright, a folk singer and songwriter who has spent much of the last 50 years traveling the globe performing, says he always packs a swimsuit and goggles along with his guitar. He likes to swim laps between shows, and says he grew up loving the water. (His father liked to swim, too, but his mother harbored a fear of swimming since she was baptised in a muddy water when she was 8.)

Wainwright, who lives in Canada, is more than just a musician. He’s played small parts in films, including “The 40-year-old Virgin” and the singing surgeon in an episode of MASH.

The sun rises over Barton Springs Pool on Saturday May 13, 2017. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

No surprise that he included Barton Springs Pool in his story. He makes note of the topless sunbathing that sometimes (though not nearly as often as it used to) takes place at the chlorine-free swimming hole.

RELATED: Zilker Park celebrates its 100th birthday this year

Somewhat surprisingly, Deep Eddy also gets a nod. (I love Deep Eddy too, but on the global scale?) Perhaps it’s the history of the place that charms. Wainwright notes that the spring-fed pool, touted as the oldest man-made swimming pool in the state, once hosted Lorena’s Diving Horse. He doesn’t mention the ferris wheel or the guy who ate bananas under water or the giant slide, which add to the appeal, too.

Deep Eddy Pool in Austin, circa 1925, featured a ferris wheel, a 50-foot diving platform and a slide. Austin History Center

 

RELATED: Deep Eddy Pool celebrates its 100th birthday in 2016

What are your favoirte places to swim? Besides Barton Springs, I’d put Walden Pond in Massachusetts, Madrone Lake at Bamberger Ranch near Johnson City, a secret spot on the Blanco River, Lake Michigan and the San Marcos River on my list.

Five tips to help you keep your cool while hiking on a hot summer day

Hikers explore St. Edward’s Park in May 2016. Photo by Pam LeBlanc May 9 2016

 

Hiking in Central Texas lately feels like walking across a hot griddle with a blow torch aimed at your face.

That’s why Texas park rangers, who encounter lots of park visitors suffering from heat exhaustion and dehydration, want to share some tips to keep hikers safe during the hot summer months.

Number one? Drink plenty of water. Hydration makes it easier to tolerate heat. Carry extra water and drink periodically, even if you don’t feel thirsty. And if you’re bringing your dog, make sure it has water, too. A good rule of thumb is to turn around and head back once you’ve consumed half of your water supply, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department officials say.

RELATED: Tired of the usual trails? Check out these less-known hiking gems.

Second, make sure you know how long the trail is before heading out. Hikers sometimes underestimate how long it will take them to hike a trail, especially when they’re tackling rugged terrain. Trail maps are available at the visitors center of all Texas State Parks, and online at the department’s website.

Wear lightweight, loose-fitting clothing when you hike during the summer. Photo by Pam LeBlanc

 

Third, plan hikes for early in the morning or in the evening, when it’s cooler and the sun isn’t as strong. Take frequent breaks and know your limit. Rest under shade when you can.

RELATED: Beautiful hiking trails, no crowds at Doeskin Ranch.

Fourth, wear appropriate clothing – light-colored, lightweight and loose-fitting clothing works best. A hat keeps your face shaded, and a bandana can be dipped in water and worn around the neck to keep you cool.

Finally, park rangers say, check the weather before you start your hike so you’re prepared for conditions on the trail.

If you start to experience a heat related emergency, call the park headquarters or 911.

Participants in the Best of Hill Country Hikes with Fit City series explore Pedernales Falls State Park. Photo by Pam LeBlanc

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.

 

 

Beautiful hiking trails, no crowds at Doeskin Ranch

Cody Ackerman of the REI Outdoor School, left, helps Jean Bogardus across a creek. Pam LeBlanc/Austin American-Statesman
Cody Ackerman of the REI Outdoor School, left, helps Jean Bogardus across a creek. Pam LeBlanc/Austin American-Statesman

 

Looking for someplace to hike where you’re more likely to spot hawks and deer than other visitors?

Check out the Doeskin Ranch Unit of the Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge. I headed there this morning for the latest in the Best Hill Country Hikes with Fit City series, a collaboration with REI.

Several creeks flow through the preserve. Pam LeBlanc/Austin American-Statesman
Several creeks flow through the preserve. Pam LeBlanc/Austin American-Statesman

 

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Hikers gather at the trailhead at Doeskin Ranch. Pam LeBlanc/Austin American-Statesman

Our small group spent a few hours roaming the refuge, part of more than 25,000 acres set aside to protect habitat that’s important to endangered species, including the black-capped vireo and golden-cheeked warbler that nest here.

Cody Ackerman of REI’s Outdoor School in Austin led the excursion, sharing a bit of the property’s history and answering questions about the plants and animals that live in the area.

We headed out first on the short Creek Trail. We ambled past the ruins of an old log shed, a remnant of the land’s previous incarnation as a ranch. From there we hiked along the creek, marched like ants through fields of waving, rust-colored grasses and up a few easy switchbacks to a lookout point at the top of a ridge where we could see for miles into the Hill Country. Along the way we paused to inspect a garden of wooden boxes designed to serve as nesting boxes for bees.

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Wooden boxes provide refuge for bees. Pam LeBlanc/Austin American-Statesman

More than 5 miles of trails crisscross the Doeskin Ranch Unit, which is open from sunrise to sunset year round. (Trail runners take note; the terrain is perfect for a run.) The paths weave through prairie and woodland forest, along creeks, into an old oak forest and to the top of a plateau.

The land became a National Recreation Trail in 2005.

Want in on the next Fit City hike? The excursions start at 9 a.m. and last about two hours. Cost is $20 for members or $25 for non-members. Register here.

Here’s the upcoming schedule:

  • April 17 – Pedernales Falls State Park
  • May 15 – Wild Basin Preserve

If you go: Doeskin Ranch is on RR 1174. From Austin, take U.S. Highway 183 north to Highway 29. Head west, toward Liberty Hill, then turn south onto RR 1869. Travel about 10 miles, then turn left onto RR 1174. The parking lot is on your left. for more information about the Balcones Canyonlands, go here.

Take a hike with REI and Fit City

The Best of Hill Country Hikes with Fit City series resumes in January. Photo by Pam LeBlanc
The Best of Hill Country Hikes with Fit City series resumes in January. Photo by Pam LeBlanc

 

Want to explore some of the best hiking trails in Central Texas? Join me at one of the upcoming Best Hill Country Hikes with Fit City.

REI Outdoor School instructors lead the monthly guided walks. I tag along because I like to hike and want to meet other people who like outdoor adventure. Plus, I’d rather be out in the woods on a Monday morning than sitting at my desk working on a computer.

The two-hour hikes begin at 9 a.m. and wrap up by 11 a.m. Depending on the destination, a shuttle departs the downtown REI store at 601 N. Lamar between 30 minutes and an hour ahead of time.

Cost is $20 for REI members; $25 for nonmembers. To register or for more information, go to rei.com.

Here are upcoming dates and links to their registration pages:

National Park Service drops entry fees at parks on 10 days in 2017

Entrance fees will be waived at national parks including Big Bend National Park, shown here, for 10 days in 2017. Photo by Reine Wonite for National Park Service
Entrance fees will be waived at national parks including Big Bend National Park, shown here, for 10 days in 2017. Photo by Reine Wonite for National Park Service

 

Want to visit a national park for free?

The National Park Service has announced 10 days in 2017 when it will waive entrance fees for all visitors.

The free days are:

Pam LeBlanc takes in the view from the top of the South Rim Trail at Big Bend National Park. Photo by Chris LeBlanc
Pam LeBlanc takes in the view from the top of the South Rim Trail at Big Bend National Park. Photo by Chris LeBlanc

• Jan. 16, Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

• Feb. 20, Presidents Day.

• April 15-16 and April 22-23, National Park Week weekends.

• Aug. 25, National Park Service birthday.

• Sept. 30, National Public Lands Day.

• Nov. 11-12, Veterans Day weekend.

The National Park System includes 413 sites including national parks, national historical parks, national monuments, national recreation areas, national battlefields and national seashores.Sixteen of those sites are in Texas. Read more about them here.

Entrance fees at 124 of the sites range from $3 to $30; entry is free to the other 289 sites.

The entrance fee waiver on the fee-free days does not cover user fees for camping, boat launches, transportation or special tours.

For more information go here.