Lady Bird Lake

Coordinates: 30°15′03″N 97°42′49″W / 30.25083°N 97.71361°W / 30.25083; -97.71361
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Lady Bird Lake
Image of Lady Bird Lake with Austin in the background.
View from Lady Bird Lake toward Downtown Austin.
Location of Lady Bird Lake in Texas, USA.
Location of Lady Bird Lake in Texas, USA.
Lady Bird Lake
Location of Lady Bird Lake in Texas, USA.
Location of Lady Bird Lake in Texas, USA.
Lady Bird Lake
LocationCentral Austin, Texas,
United States
Coordinates30°15′03″N 97°42′49″W / 30.25083°N 97.71361°W / 30.25083; -97.71361
TypePower plant cooling/recreational reservoir
Primary inflowsColorado River
Primary outflowsColorado River
Basin countriesUnited States
Surface area468 acres (189 ha)
Max. depth18 ft (5.5 m)
Surface elevation428 ft (130 m)

Lady Bird Lake (formerly, and still colloquially referred to as Town Lake) is a river-like reservoir on the Colorado River in Austin, Texas, United States. The City of Austin created the reservoir in 1960 as a cooling pond for a new city power plant. The lake, which has a surface area of 416 acres (168 ha), is now used primarily for recreation and flood control. The reservoir is named in honor of former First Lady of the United States Lady Bird Johnson.[1]

Lady Bird Lake is the easternmost lake of a chain of reservoirs on the river, which is completely located in Texas, and should not be confused with the larger Colorado River located in the Southwestern United States. This chain, known locally as the Texas Highland Lakes, also includes Lake Buchanan, Inks Lake, Lake LBJ, Lake Marble Falls, Lake Travis, and Lake Austin.


image of Longhorn Dam on Lady Bird Lake
Longhorn Dam impounds Lady Bird Lake.

The City of Austin constructed Longhorn Dam in 1960 to form Town Lake. The city needed the reservoir to serve as a cooling pond for the Holly Street Power Plant, which operated from 1960 until 2007.[2]

Before 1971, the shoreline of Town Lake was mostly a mixture of weeds, unkempt bushes, and trash.[3] Local television station KTBC referred to the lake as an "eyesore".[3] Some concerned Austinites led small projects to clean up the lake. Roberta Crenshaw, chair of the Austin Board of Parks and Recreation, purchased nearly 400 trees and shrubs in an effort to spearhead parkland development around the lake.[4] During his two terms in office (1971–75), the Mayor of Austin, Roy Butler, led the Austin City Council to establish the Town Lake Beautification Committee, and he appointed Lady Bird Johnson as the project's honorary chairman. Johnson's involvement brought attention and money (including $19,000 of her own) to the Town Lake project, allowing for the planting of hundreds of shrubs and trees.[5] The city also built a system of hike and bike trails along the shoreline of the lake.

On July 26, 2007, the Austin City Council passed a resolution authorizing the renaming of the reservoir from Town Lake to Lady Bird Lake in honor of Lady Bird Johnson, who had died earlier that month.[6] Johnson had declined the honor of having the lake renamed for her while she was alive. In renaming the lake, the City Council recognized Johnson's dedication to beautifying the lake and her efforts to create a recreational trail system around the lake's shoreline.[7]

In 2009, non-profit organization Keep Austin Beautiful[8] launched "Clean Lady Bird Lake".[9] The program mobilizes thousands of community volunteers annually to conduct large-scale cleanups along the lake every other month and targeted cleanups throughout the year.[10][11]

In 2014, a one-mile stretch of the Ann and Roy Butler Hike-and-Bike Trail, named after a former Austin mayor and his wife, was paved to create a boardwalk.[12]

On Monday, February 5, around 1:30 in the afternoon, members of the Austin Police Department responded to the 300 block of West Cesar Chavez Street, where first responders recovered a dead body that had been discovered by civillians earlier, following a series of four other bodies recovered from the lake in 2023.[13][14][15]

Recreational uses[edit]

image of Lady Bird Lake with downtown Austin in the background taken from the East Riverside neighborhood in Austin.
View of Lady Bird Lake and the Downtown skyline seen from the East Riverside neighborhood.

Lady Bird Lake is a major recreation area for the City of Austin. The lake's banks are bounded by the Ann and Roy Butler Hike-and-Bike Trail, and businesses offer recreational watercraft services along the lakefront portion of the trail. Austin's largest downtown park, Zilker Park, is adjacent to the lake, and Barton Springs, a major attraction for swimmers, flows into the lake.

The City of Austin prohibits the operation of most motorized watercraft on Lady Bird Lake.[16] As a result, the lake serves as a popular recreational area for paddleboards, kayaks, canoes, dragon boats, and rowing shells. Austin's warm climate and the river's calm waters, nearly 6 miles (9.7 km) length and straight courses are especially popular with crew teams and clubs. Along with the University of Texas women's rowing team and coeducational club rowing team, who practice on Lady Bird Lake year-round, teams from other universities (including the University of Wisconsin,[17] the University of Chicago, the University of Oklahoma, and the University of Nebraska) train on Lady Bird Lake during Christmas holidays and spring breaks.[citation needed]

Other water sports along the shores of the lake include swimming in Deep Eddy Pool, the oldest swimming pool in Texas, and Barton Springs Pool, a natural pool on Barton Creek which flows into Lady Bird Lake. Below Tom Miller Dam is Red Bud Isle, a small island formed by the 1900 collapse of the McDonald Dam that serves as a recreation area with a dog park and access to the lake for canoeing and fishing.[18]

Swimming in Lady Bird Lake is illegal not due to poor water quality from the run-off from area streets, which is a false rumor, but rather due to several drownings as well as debris in the water from bridges and dams destroyed by floods in years past. The City of Austin enacted the ban in 1964, and the fine can be up to $500.[19]

For the first time in August 2019, a toxic blue-green algae was found in the lake and reportedly killed at least 5 dogs who were exposed.[20]

Music venues on the banks of Lady Bird Lake are home to a number of events year-round, including the Austin City Limits Music Festival in the fall, the Austin Reggae Festival and Spamarama in the spring, and many open-air concerts at Auditorium Shores on the south bank and Fiesta Gardens on the north bank. The Austin Aqua Festival was held on the shores of Lady Bird Lake from 1962 until 1998.[citation needed] The late Austin resident and blues guitar legend, Stevie Ray Vaughan played a number of concerts at Auditorium Shores and is honored with a memorial statue on the south bank.

Ann and Roy Butler Hike-and-Bike Trail and Boardwalk[edit]

image of Butler Hike and Bike trail in Austin
Many Austinites take advantage of the Butler Trail to keep fit by walking, running or cycling.
image of Bulter Hike and Bike Trail Boardwalk
Part of the boardwalk in 2018

The Ann and Roy Butler Hike-and-Bike Trail, formerly the Town Lake Hike and Bike Trail, creates a complete circuit around Lady Bird Lake. It is one of the oldest urban Texas hike and bike paths. The trail is the longest trail designed for non-motorized traffic maintained by the City of Austin Parks and Recreation Department. A local nonprofit, The Trail Conservancy, is the Trail's private steward and has made Trail-wide improvements by adding user amenities and infrastructure including trailheads and lakefront gathering areas, locally-designed jewel box restrooms, exercise equipment, as well as doing trailwide ecological restoration work on an ongoing basis.

The Butler Trail loop was completed in 2014 with the public-private partnership 1-mile Boardwalk at Lady Bird Lake project, which was spearheaded by The Trail Conservancy.[21][22] Construction on the $28 million project was completed during October 2012 – June 2014.[23][24]

The trail is 10.1 miles (16.3 km) long and mostly flat, with 97.5% of it at less than an 8% grade. The trail's surface is smooth and is mostly crushed granite except for a few lengths of concrete and a boardwalk[25] on the South-side of the lake. A pedestrian bridge incorporated into the trail bridges Barton Creek. The Roberta Crenshaw Pedestrian Walkway spans Lady Bird Lake beneath MoPac Boulevard and provides the trail's westernmost crossing of Lady Bird Lake.

The trail encompasses the Lou Neff Point Gazebo at the confluence of Barton Creek and Lady Bird Lake. It is listed as 'Austin Art in Public Places'[26]


Lady Bird Lake has been stocked with several species of fish intended to improve the utility of the reservoir for recreational fishing. The predominant fish species in Lady Bird Lake are largemouth bass, catfish, carp, and sunfish. Fishing is regulated, requiring a fishing license, and daily bag and length limits apply for most species.

A ban on the consumption of fish caught in the lake was issued by the City of Austin in 1990, as a result of excessively high levels of chlordane found in the fish.[27] Although the use of chlordane as a pesticide was banned in the United States in 1988, the chemical sticks strongly to soil particles and can continue to pollute groundwater for years after its application. The ban on the consumption of fish caught in the lake was finally lifted in 1999.[28]

Drinking water uses[edit]

The first water treatment facility in the City of Austin, the Thomas C. Green Water Treatment Plant, was built in 1925 to treat water from the Colorado River. The plant occupied 6 acres (2.4 ha) just west of the principal downtown business district. The water treatment facility was decommissioned in late 2008.[29]


  1. ^ "Lady Bird Lake". Handbook of Texas Online. Retrieved December 30, 2010.
  2. ^ "Holly Street Power Plant is Retired" (PDF). Austin Energy Customer News. Austin Energy. Retrieved April 9, 2013.[permanent dead link]
  3. ^ a b "Former Austin Mayor Roy Butler Has Died". KTBC. November 13, 2009. Retrieved December 19, 2009.
  4. ^ American-Statesman Staff (February 9, 2015). "Roberta Crenshaw:Lady Bird Lake's unsung hero". Austin American-Statesman. Archived from the original on January 15, 2020. Retrieved January 14, 2020.
  5. ^ Wear, Ben. "Lady Bird helped turn Town Lake into town treasure". Austin American-Statesman, July 13, 2007. pA1, A6.
  6. ^ Raskin, Amy. "Austin changes Town Lake name to Lady Bird Lake". Houston Chronicle. July 26, 2007.
  7. ^ Wilson, Janet (July 12, 2007). "Lady Bird Johnson dies at 94". Austin American-Statesman. Archived from the original on February 19, 2012.
  8. ^ "Home - Keep Austin Beautiful". Archived from the original on January 4, 2024.
  9. ^ Barnes, Michael (May 20, 2013). "Volunteer Linda McCoy-Shriever fights cancer and cleans up creeks". Austin American-Statesman. Archived from the original on February 22, 2017. Retrieved February 22, 2017.
  10. ^ Strickland, Barbara (November 28, 2013). "Keep Austin Beautiful Looking For Volunteers To Clean Up Lady Bird Lake". Austinist. Retrieved November 20, 2015.[permanent dead link]
  11. ^ "Clean Lady Bird Lake". Keep Austin Beautiful. Retrieved February 22, 2017.
  12. ^ "Ann and Roy Butler Hike-and-Bike Trail and Boardwalk at Lady Bird Lake |". Retrieved March 7, 2024.
  13. ^ Hernandez, Emily. "Body pulled from Lady Bird Lake not ruled a homicide, police say". MySA. Retrieved March 7, 2024.
  14. ^ "Body Pulled from Austin's Lady Bird Lake, Marking Latest in a Series of Deaths". Peoplemag. Retrieved March 7, 2024.
  15. ^
  16. ^ Ellis, Luke (2006). "The Common Law: Boating on Town Lake – What's the Law?" March 17, 2006.
  17. ^ "University of Wisconsin Rowers Weather the Austin Cold on Lady Bird Lake". January 7, 2017.
  18. ^ "Austin Parks and Recreation Department, Red Bud Isle" Archived November 21, 2009, at the Wayback Machine
  19. ^ Largey, Matt. "Yup, It's Still Illegal to Swim in Lady Bird Lake. Here's Why". KUT. Retrieved June 7, 2017.
  20. ^ Bradshaw, Kelsey. "Blue-green algae potentially harmful to dogs found in 10 spots along Lake Travis, LCRA says". Austin American-Statesman. Retrieved April 3, 2021.
  21. ^ "Projects Page". The Trail Foundation. November 30, 2015. Retrieved November 30, 2015.
  22. ^ "Collaboration: The Boardwalk". The Trail Foundation. Retrieved July 14, 2021.
  23. ^ "Ann and Roy Butler Hike-and-Bike Trail and Boardwalk at Lady Bird Lake". City of Austin, Texas. Retrieved July 1, 2021.
  24. ^ Runn, Courtney (December 23, 2017). "Here's how to have the most Austin experience on the boardwalk". Austin American-Statesman. Archived from the original on July 9, 2021. Retrieved July 1, 2021.
  25. ^ "The Boardwalk Trail at Lady Bird Lake". City of Austin. Archived from the original on May 4, 2015. Retrieved November 20, 2015.
  26. ^ "Lou Neff Point Gazebo". cultureNOW. Archived from the original on July 9, 2021. Retrieved July 1, 2021.
  27. ^ Texas Environmental Almanac ."Water Quality". Texas Environmental Almanac. ch. 2, p. 6.
  28. ^ Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission (1999). "Regulations Committee Meeting". Commission meeting transcript. November 17, 1999.
  29. ^ City of Austin (2008). "Green Water Treatment Plant Decommissioning Ceremony Tuesday" Archived February 28, 2009, at the Wayback Machine. Press Release. December 15, 2008.

External links[edit]