Joanna Wolaver is the executive director of the Shoal Creek Conservancy, a nonprofit founded in 2013 to help restore and protect Austin’s Shoal Creek.
“I moved here when I was 5. I actually grew up in a condo overlooking Barton Creek, so that was my backyard growing up. There was a little treehouse somebody had built, so my brother and I would go down there and play and take walks on the greenbelt. We used to wander a bunch. So that’s, I think, where my love for creeks and the outdoors comes from. Also I spent the summers traveling around the U.S. going to national parks with my dad. My parents were divorced and he lived in Arizona and California, so he’d come pick us up in Texas and then we’d drive back via Canada—crazy road trips to get back to wherever he was living. I was 15 when I learned how to drive on those winding roads of Yellowstone. I remember my dad saying, ‘Just stay to the right of that yellow line and you’ll be just fine.’
“Shoal Creek used to be on the edge of downtown. When I grew up it was the Warehouse District. Now it runs through the heart of downtown. It runs through the heart of Austin, really. So it’s time we start thinking about it like that as a city. We can make it really a world-class place. Shoal Creek’s got some of the worst water-quality issues in the city, has major flooding issues that we’ve seen most recently. The trail has a backlog of capital improvement needs. Austin has the resources to really have something that’s beautiful and amazing. It’s just not quite there yet.
“I want people to care because it’s an oasis in our city. As we continue to develop we have fewer and fewer places where we can just go and breathe or just go for a run or relax. It’s a gem. And it’s almost a hidden gem at this point, and it needs to be lifted out and have a light shone on it. That’s part of what we’re trying to do. You have that side of it, that it’s a park, it’s a green oasis. But also, it’s a transportation corridor for people commuting, for bikes, for walkers. Right now [the trail] goes from 38th Street to Lady Bird Lake. Our vision is to have it extend all the way up to 183 and the Domain so you could bike those 11 miles into downtown. If you live downtown you could bike up to the Pickle Research Center for work. Really make it a true north-south transportation corridor. And then you have the flood issue—that’s a health and safety concern. And part of our mission is to work with the city to address that flood risk.
“I actually had a meeting scheduled with the watershed planning folks at the city a week after the flood, and we were to talk about partnering on a watershed plan. Those conversations were already in the works. The strategies haven’t changed [since the recent flood]—it just underscores the importance of doing it. And the one thing about the flood I found interesting was to find us in this role that people were calling and emailing and checking our website and posting on Facebook asking what to do during the flood and how to help post-flood, not just on the trail but in the community, for the folks on Lamar. So we found ourselves moving into a watershed-wide role rather than just focusing on the trail and the creek itself.
“We’re going to have another one. We already have relationships with the city, but it’s about strengthening those relationships so we get information out as quickly as possible.”