The poet Robert Frost wrote a poem with famous line: “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall…” The opposite might be said along the Shoal Creek Trail today. There is an incredible, often overlooked stone wall along the Trail north of the Gaston Avenue & Shoal Creek Boulevard Trailhead. It is a little worse for the wear, having been pretty well battered by almost sixty years of floods and neglect. But, it remains a symbol of the remarkable legacy of our great neighbor and our heroine, Janet Fish.
Everyone knows the story of the creation of our much loved Hike & Bike Trail by the singular efforts of former Austin residents Janet and Russell Fish in the early 1960’s. Mrs. Fish hounded the City for years to build a trail along an old bridle path along Shoal Creek to no avail. Finally, Mrs. Fish took a check her husband had given her for a new station wagon and signed it over to the Parks Department with the demand that their bulldozer meet her on the creek the next day to get started. The rest is history.
But, what is less well known is that much of the infrastructure and plant material along the Shoal Creek Trail is the product of Mrs. Fish’s labors. The stone wall north of Gaston is part of this handiwork, quite literally. Mrs. Fish’s son, Andy, remembers his mother helping a stone mason named DeLeon build it one hot summer. Mrs. Fish would personally carry heavy cement bags down the trail and hand select limestone boulders from Shoal Creek to be incorporated into the wall. Andy says she and Mr. DeLeon would often have spirited discussions over which stones should “make the cut.”
Unfortunately, the masonry heirloom of this remarkable lady is now close to disappearing forever. The wall’s stacked stones were held in place by cement alone. It never had steel rebar incorporated into it. Yet, it managed to survive the 1981 Memorial Day Flood and many more since. But, the cumulative result of all these decades of high water events is evident. The wall is undercut in many places with the base swept away, leaving only the footings. Last September’s severe flood was almost the last straw. Quick action is needed to save it.
The Pease Park Conservancy is taking on the challenge in honor of Mrs. Fish. We've received a $24,000 bid for the wall’s repair. (The reconstructed wall will incorporate rebar to better assure its longevity this time). The Charlton Family Foundation has stepped forward with a generous $5,000 grant to get the work started as has the Austin Parks Foundation. Generous donations from the neighborhood and a final investment of Conservancy funds have filled the funding gap and allowed the project to commence in early August.
The Conservancy continues to seek funds from other neighbors and trail patrons support these and similar rehabilitation efforts through the green space. The rehabilitated wall will serve as a gateway to the hillside just south of the Janet Fish bridge where we recently partnered with Shoal Creek Conservancy, COA Urban Forestry, and COA Watershed Protection to plant 1,000 native saplings. This hillside was once a tract of invasive bamboo, soon it will be a pleasant, shaded hillside for park patrons to take respite in. A rehabilitated wall with new native plantings would be something that Mrs. Fish would truly be honored by.
If you would like to contribute to this worthy effort, please make your check payable to the “Pease Park Conservancy” and add the notation “Janet Fish wall.” Then, mail it to the Conservancy at P.O. Box 50065, Austin, Texas 78763.