April 9, 2019

25 Year Anniversary of the opening of Lakeway City Park!

City Park Struggles & Remembrances:

George Blume is widely acclaimed as the founder of Lakeway’s City Park and its many trails systems. As a volunteer without any compensation, George worked tirelessly improving & promoting the City’s Parks, Greenbelts, and Trails. Many times working alone and facing huge obstacles and tremendous political resistance and indifference, George’s vision for a greater Lakeway Parks and Trails System prevailed. 

Circa January 1991 George attended a seminar / workshop sponsored by the Lake Travis Chamber of Commerce; the seminar was intended for local citizens to find paths toward improving community strengths. On the second night of the seminar, participants broke into smaller committees to work on specific projects. George chose to participate in a committee exploring quality of life projects. Other members of this committee were Alan Williams, Linda Sandlin, Burt Vusat, and another lady whose name cannot be recalled. Alan Williams would later become a valuable ally of George’s in the many Park struggles to come. After a short discussion Linda Sandlin spoke up that she was with the Lake Travis Youth Association and that organization was desperately looking for land to be used for baseball fields for the organizations ever expanding youth baseball programs. George then stated that he was willing to work on this project if this land for baseball fields could be also be used as a park with facilities for all citizens of the community; the committee agreed with this goal and hereafter called itself the Park Committee. Also at this seminar there were other committees working on other projects. Another committee chose to work on a community swimming pool; members of this Pool Committee included John Brodnax, Johnnie Fields, and Veronica Bennett who would become valuable allies of George’s in the many Park struggles to come. The facilitator leading the seminar suggested that the Park Committee and the Pool Committee combine to work together on both projects. After consideration of the facilitator’s recommendation the Park Committee decided to remain separate from the Pool Committee so as not to dilute their work and efforts. At the conclusion of the meeting George recommended that the Committee concentrate on a waterfront park as the area was situated geographically on Lake Travis and there were few waterfront public parks in the area; the committee agreed with this goal. At this point the Park Committee was a Lake Travis Chamber of Commerce sponsored committee and not connected with the City of Lakeway or any other governmental agency. There would be many more Park Committees to come in the future but these committees would be separate and distinct from the original Lake Travis Chamber of Commerce Park Committee. One member of the committee resigned immediately because he thought the goals were a “pipe dream.” Another member thought the goal of a waterfront park was beyond reach, however this member stayed becoming a valuable member, going on to serve on the City of Lakeway’s first Parks and Recreation Commission and later being elected to the Board of Trustees of the LTISD.

Within weeks after its foundation, the Park Committee began looking for land suitable for Baseball Fields and other park facilities. The Committee soon discovered there were many obstacles to their goal. First the rugged terrain of the Texas Hill Country made it difficult to find land that was economically viable to be cleared for flat baseball diamonds. Second the recent real estate market crash had left many undeveloped land tracts in foreclosure; these tracts were effectively off the markets while the lenders sorted through repossession. Third there were no funds available for the purchase of Park Land from any likely source. George made every attempt to keep various organizations involved in the effort to find parkland including the Board of Directors of the Lake Travis Chamber of Commerce. At a presentation to the board about the committee’s progress, George met Cole Rowland who was on the Board of Directors of the Chamber of Commerce; months later would become Mayor of the City of Lakeway. Cole would also become a valuable ally of George’s in the many Park struggles to come. Years later Cole would admit that when he first heard George speak about finding a waterfront park for the Lake Travis area, he was very skeptical about George’s chances of success for this project. Cole never publicly admitted his skepticism until years later. Such were George’s prospects with this project, almost no one believed that he could locate the land for a waterfront park, much less secure funding.

The struggle for funds to purchase parkland was a real obstacle, as was finding an organization that could maintain and administer a park. Neither the Lake Travis Youth Association nor any other non-profit organization in the area had funds for parkland; Travis County was strapped for funds due to the recent recession; the City of Lakeway had shown no interest in parkland development; and the City of Bee Cave was not incorporated at this time. There were approximately five small parks in the City of Lakeway at the time but four were undeveloped; the one developed park, Dragon Park, were owned and sparsely maintained by the LCC (Lakeway Civic Corporation.) Circa 1989 Jack and Myrtle Hamilton donated funds to the LCC to purchase land that which would become the Hamilton Greenbelts I & II; the Hamilton’s also funded the building of a short trail in each Greenbelt. The trails were not connected between the Greenbelts; again the land and trails were and sparsely maintained by the LCC. The City of Lakeway owned no parks; there was no Parks Department or employees.

Various land tracts were evaluated by the committee but none were suitable and the big issue of funds remained. George did discover that the Lakeway MUD had recently purchased approximately eighty-two (82) acres on Lohmans Crossing Road that they intended to use to spray excess treated affluent. This land would become known as the Lohmans’ MUD Irrigation Tract. George had also heard that the MUD could not possibly use all that land and there might be a possibility of leasing a portion of the MUD tract. George attended the next Lakeway MUD’s Board of Directors meeting to present his proposal to lease a portion of the new MUD tract for operation as a park. The Lakeway MUD Board rejected George’s proposal saying that they had not fully completed an evaluation of their needs for the property; George also sensed from comments made by the MUD Board members that they had no interest in assisting with a park.

George left the MUD meeting dejected and began driving around the area to clear his head and plan his next approach for finding suitable parkland. While driving around the City, George came across a large sign on Lohman’s Crossing Road advertising the sale of 80+ acres of waterfront property on Hurst Creek. George had seen the sign numerous times before as he drove his son to piano practice with an instructor in the Graveyard Point area. The land was offered for sale by SWR Realty with a 214 area code in the Dallas Texas area. George did not recognize the realty company and thought it strange that the realty company had a Dallas telephone number. Upon calling SWR Realty it was learned that SWR Realty was part of the RTC (Resolution Trust Corporation, RTC) charged with selling off the assets of the failed Savings and Loans guaranteed by the FSLIC (Federal Savings and Loan Insurance Corporation.) SWR Reality was a government owned Real Estate Company specifically charted to sell off the reprocessed property from the failed Savings and Loan, Southwest Savings Association Dallas, TX. The Austin branch of Southwest Savings, located at 4303 Victory Drive, Austin, TX 78704, had made a loan on the property to the Austin Developer Doug Fike. Mr. Fike had purchased the land from an adjacent land owner Jeff Sanderfer and had planned on building 50 condos on the property, a clubhouse, and a large marina. Sadly the City of Lakeway would hear from Mr. Sanderfer, via lawsuits, many times in the future. The figure in the link below illustrates Doug Fike’s plans for the property.This drawing was dated July 10, 1985. Mr. Fike had also purchased 50 water-taps from Water District 17 to supply water to the condos; at a price of $5000 each the value of these water taps was $250,000. Ownership of these water taps would later pass to the City following the purchase of this property; the City was to later sell 45 of these water taps at full value recovering 60% of the purchase price of the City Park property. Mr Fike had also secured a license to install a large septic field. We can only think of the great misfortune to the City Of Lakeway had this land become a condo development instead of a park; fortunately for George’s vision and efforts, Lakeway today has this beautiful park.

SWR Realty sent George a plat of the property and the list price at the time of $715,000. Upon reviewing the plat and visiting the property George realized that he had found the perfect property for a park that could be used for multiple baseball diamonds, plus the property was perfect for a waterfront park with over 2000 feet of waterfront and a gentle sloping beach for easy access. At 80+ acres, the property was large with room for all park activities plus the land lacked the rugged terrain of the surrounding area; in addition the property was easily accessible via two city streets. George knew that the property was very reasonably priced as one quarter of an acre waterfront lots just a quarter of a mile away were routinely selling for $250,000. Even in a real estate recession George knew that this land would not stay available for a long period of time. Fortunately the property was listed in Dallas and none the local real estate companies or developers knew of the listing. George thought of purchasing the property and developing the land for himself. However George thought this unethical as he had begun this project as a service to the community.

George knew he needed help quickly as the land would almost certainly not remain undiscovered by a developer and thus become unavailable for a park. The property was located immediately adjacent to the city limits of the City of Lakeway and within the City’s ETJ (Extraterritorial Jurisdiction); thus only the City could help with funding. George was skeptical about dealing with the City of Lakeway because the prevailing attitude at the time by many citizens was that all community amenities should be private to keep out unwanted outsiders. Any City owned property would have to be open to the public by state law. Indeed at that time almost all amenities in Lakeway were private, having been built and managed by the developer, the Lakeway Company, which was now owned by the Alpert Corporation of Dallas. These amenities included the Live Oak Golf Course, the Yaupon Golf Course, the Hills Golf Course, the World of Tennis, and the Lakeway Inn. The only park in the city, Dragon Park and the Hamilton Greenbelts were owned by the LCC and thus private. Most citizens expected the Lakeway Company to provide all future recreational facilities. Unfortunately the Lakeway Company was for all practical purposes insolvent at this time due to the deep real estate recession and mismanagement. The Lakeway Company would be forced into bankruptcy later in the year and dissolved over the next three years. Despite how improbable George knew that his only hope for funding was to turn to the City of Lakeway.

When George recognized that he must work with the City he was acutely aware of the sensitive nature of many of Lakeway resident’s aversion to a public park, George knew that the next phase of the search for a park suitable to the committee’s goals would require a great deal of delicate private discussions with City leaders. Up until this point the entire committee had been involved. George discussed the situation with the committee members and it was decided that for the near future that George would handle all future discussions with the City in private until such point that the park project became a public matter. George promised and kept his promise to keep the committee members informed of negotiations with the City until the park was introduced to the citizens of Lakeway. December 31, 1986 George Blume, his wife Faye, and their son George Herman moved to Lakeway and began planning their home on Morning Cloud Cove. During the planning of his home, George met Sam Huser, City Administrator for the City of Lakeway; Sam would later become a valuable ally of George’s in the many Park struggles to come.

George decided to call Councilmember Veronica Bennett of the City of Lakeway who he had met earlier at the Lake Travis Chamber of Commerce seminar when the Parks Committee was formed. George was leery of dealing with any elected official however since Veronica had participated in the Pool Committee, George felt seeking Veronica’s assistance could be beneficial. Veronica was very interested in the park committee’s work and when told about the property she asked if it had waterfront. When told that the land had 2000 feet of waterfront, Veronica was ecstatic. Veronica asked that George call Sam Huser, City Administrator at the City to discuss this property as parkland for the City; Veronica also promised to call Sam that night and ask Sam to give George his full attention.

Following Veronica’s lead, George met with Sam Huser to discuss the property. Three years earlier, George had met Sam Huser, City Administrator for the City of Lakeway, when planning construction of his home on Morning Cloud Cove. To George’s surprise Sam was very excited about the property and receptive to pursuing this property for the City as a public park. Sam would become a valuable ally of George’s in the many Park struggles to come. Sam was even more concerned as to how to bring this property to fruition as a public park. First Sam knew that first he had to get the support of the City Council. Sam decided that it would work best if he took the individual Councilmembers down to the future park property individually or in groups no larger than two Councilmembers. Sam had reasoned that with this approach, councilmembers could then decide individually about the potential of this property for a City Park without the peer pressure from other Councilmembers. Sam always asked George to accompany him with these property tours with the various Councilmembers. Coincidentally the time of year of these tours, in April, was when there was some inevitable change of membership on the Council due to the end of terms for some Councilmembers. Cole Rowland who had filed for election as Mayor and Jim Finneran who had filed for election as Councilmember; both were unopposed in the coming election, were also included in the tours. After viewing the property, all the council members and Mayor elect Rowland and council member elect Jim Finneran were very support of acquiring the property for parkland. Sam was most concerned about gaining the support of Councilmember Ken Kennedy who had traditionally opposed any expansion of City facilities in Lakeway; therefore Sam delayed introducing Ken to the property until the very last. Finally the day came to show Ken the potential park property. After showing Ken the property, Ken, Sam, and George were standing in the City Hall parking lot and Ken proclaimed that it was about time that the City finally got in on one of the good deals from the federal government. After Ken left, Sam and George looked at each other and breathed a big sigh of relief knowing that gaining Ken’s approval was critical.

Sam next arranged a meeting with SWR Realty representatives to discuss the property; attending this meeting, representing the City were Mayor Sam Sheppard, Mayor-elect Cole Rowland, Sam and George. The history of the property and the US government’s desire to sell the land to the City was discussed. However SWR representatives also stated that the City could not be given a waiver on the bidding process. SWR representatives also disclosed that the property had been reduced form 80+ acres to 64 acres due to court case that awarded approximately 16 underwater acres to an adjacent land owner. This reduction in the underwater acreage did not affect the property above the lake full waterline or the land acreage of the property. At this meeting George decided that the City should offer $375,000 for the property, however George never disclosed this figure to anyone until the time of this writing. Other than the disclosure concerning the acreage of the property, nothing more significant came out of this meeting.

The City Council then met in executive session to discuss making an offer on the proposed park property, George was not invited to this council session. After much discussion and against the advice of City Administrator, Sam Huser, the council authorized Sam to make an offer of $375,000 for the property, the same amount that George developed as an offer for the property. Sam and Cole Rowland felt like this price was way too small for SWR Realty to accept. Cole Rowland who was not yet Mayor but was allowed to sit in the Council deliberations, would later recall that he felt that the City Council did not really want a City Park but they did not want to publicly turn down the opportunity to buy this property, therefore Cole surmised that the Council came up with lowball price of $375,000 that they were sure would be rejected by RTC.

Fortunately at the same time that the City of Lakeway was preparing an offer and unknown to City Council and anyone in Lakeway, SWR Realty and the RTC reduced the price on the property from $715,000 to $395,000; overnight the City was within financial reach of obtaining this property. Sam Huser then worked with SWR Realty to bridge the $20,000 difference between the City offer price and the last SWR Realty asking price. Sam was also a registered Real Estate Broker and could represent the City in these negotiations without involving an outside Real Estate Agent. Also at this time SWR Realty began running full page advertisements in the Austin American Statesman. Unfortunately another offer from an unknown bidder for the property was received during the time that Sam was negotiating for the property; this offer was slightly higher than the city’s offer. Sam was unable to get the Council to raise the City’s offer. Sam then working with LCRA and Texas Parks and Wildlife got the waterfront area of the property declared as “wetlands.” With the wetlands declaration, Sam then offered to have the City protect the wetlands area on the property; SWR Realty agreed to favor the City and sell the property to the City for $375,000.

At this time Cole Rowland was sworn in as the new Mayor and Jim Finneran joined the council. Up until this time, all discussions within the Council had been held in Executive Session because no contract to purchase the land that was to become City Park had been entered into. With the acceptance of the City’s offer of $375,000 for the proposed park property by the RTC, a sales contract would have to be signed. At this point, the council could no longer meet in Executive Session; Council action to sign a contract for the land would have to be public with action taken in Open Session. In May 1991, the City Council in Open Session authorized Sam Huser, representing the City, to sign a contract to purchase the land for $375,000; the contract was contingent upon the City passing a bond election for the purchase price of the land.

The securing of the land for City Park now entered into its most critical phase as the citizens of Lakeway had to be convinced to vote for a bond election to purchase the land. The City Council voted unanimously to purchase the land contingent upon approval of the bond election, however many council members did not openly support the purchase of the land as a park with the exception of the new Mayor Cole Rowland and council members Veronica Bennet and Jim Finneran. Up until this time Lakeway had been a very conservative, low tax, electorate population. There was still some resentment over the City being incorporated in 1974 in that the incorporation resulted in another taxing authority to separate the citizens of their wealth through taxes. The voting electorate in Lakeway had traditionally been dominated by an older retired population. There was some younger electorate representing a bedroom community to Austin; however this electorate rarely voted in City elections. Initially there seemed to be quiet support for the purchase of the park property, therefore it was decided that the City would seek the assistance of a group of older distinguished citizens in the City for support to purchase the 64 acre tract and develop the land into a park. Two townhall meeting were planned with special invited guests of the distinguished citizens to preview the plan for the park purchase. Unfortunately by this time resistance to the park had solidified among many of the retired citizens and the townhall meetings were not well received. One of the particular, bothersome problems was an ex-mayor whom had been disgraced when he lost a reelection bid several years earlier; he now saw the opposition to a park as his redemption tool. While there was some support from some of the more enlightened retired citizens, it was now clear that there was not enough support from the retired community in the City to win the election for the park. If the bond election for the park was to succeed, the City would need the support of younger families whom had rarely voted in City elections in the past. George went to work organizing friends of friends in various organizations including the LTYA, PTA, Lake Travis Arts League, etc. to turn out the young vote. George also received help from many of his friends including Alan Williams, Linda Sandlin, John Brodnax, Johnnie Fields, Veronica Bennett, and many others whose names have been forgotten.

In the midst of the campaign for City Park George’s son had a friend, Chris Twitchell, over to play at his home.  George knew that Chris was a baseball fan and that Chris played Little League baseball with the LTYA. During the visit George told Chris that he was working to establish a public park with Baseball Diamonds in Lakeway. Chris then asked George if this new park would be private! Chris’s parents lived in Lohmans Estates; such was the life of children whose parents were not financially able to own a home in the wealthy part of Lakeway. Citizens and their children that lived in Lohmans Estates could not use the swimming pool at the Lakeway Inn, the World of Tennis, or any of numerous other private pools and parks in Lakeway for baseball or other recreational opportunities.

It was soon discovered that years earlier, less fortunate families in Lakeway and the surrounding area, on their own had discovered the land that was to become City Park. The beach area of this land was a favorite hangout for swimming by the children of Lakeway and many residents who could not use the pool at the Lakeway Inn. The beach area was their secret hide-away. The children nicknamed this area the "flats" in reference to the relatively flat terrain along the beach area. While there were many rumors of typical teenage activities, Sheriff Deputies or the police were never called to the site.

Another obstacle arose when a wealthy adjacent land owner, outside the City limits, began campaigning against the City proposal to purchase the property for a City Park. This individual purchased two full page back page advertisements in the Austin American Statesman advocating against the park property purchase. This individual claimed that the park would become a den for drug usage and other illegal activities. While we do not know the cost of these advertisements today, the cost was very expensive. Sadly, many Lakeway residents opposed to City Park echoed the false claims about City Park becoming a haven for drug use and other illegal activities. Looking back we can now say that City Park turned out beautiful and is a Lakeway Treasure. There has been not one shred of evidence of drug usage or any other criminal behavior in City Park since the Park was first opened on April 9, 1994!

On the eve of the election George, his wife Faye, and son George III went door-to-door in the Lohmans Estates area to pass out flyers supporting the purchase of the property. On Election Day, George and Sam Huser manned a booth in front of City Hall to educate voters about the park; George and Sam were at the booth 12 hours straight that day. Alan Williams enlisted several local children to hold up signs supporting the election at the entrance to Lakeway. The bond election passed in late June 1991 by 19 votes; had it not been for George, Faye, and George III going door-to-door in support of the Park bond proposal, the election would have failed, and we would not enjoy the beautiful natural park today! On election night many young children called George’s home to ask if the election passed; George could proudly report that yes Lakeway would finally have a park for all to enjoy!

After the election the City established a Parks and Recreation Commission to plan the development of the new park. George was selected as one of the first Commissioners. For the first 2-3 months after the election there was peace and calm in Lakeway about the development of the new planned City Park. However after the Commission started its work immediately the controversy started anew. Many of the citizens who had previously opposed the Park project continued to sow disenchantment about the disenchanted the idea of a public park in Lakeway and the election outcome in which the proposal to purchase the park property passed by only 19 votes. These opponents demanded that City Park be established as a private park for the exclusive use of Lakeway residents; however this would have violated the Texas Constitution and Texas Statutes. Texas law states that when property is purchased by municipalities with publicly collected taxes, said property must be available to all citizens; access to said property cannot be limited to exclusively to residents of the City.

Lakeway, TX, USA: Parks & Trails