Reach History

Millions of years ago, this spot of land and stretch of creek was covered by a shallow sea. Corals flourished here, as did humongous swimming dinosaurs. (For an article on paleontology of the Reach, read this post by Erich Rose.)
Willowbrook Reach in 1940

Europeans began settling in earnest here in the early 1800s, back when the town was called Waterloo.

Prior to that, buffalo roamed these parts hounded by wolves and trailed by mountain lions. Even in the mid-1800s, an early homesteader named John Smith in East Austin wrote: "Buffalo grazed; the roar of panthers and the war whoops of the Indians was heard around." (Letter from John Franklin Smith to his cousin, Justina Rowzee. Thanks to the Boggy Creek Farm for passing along this information.)

These large animals forged their lives upon the Blackland Prairie, which has now all but disappeared beneath the plow and road. And around those prairie dwellers, the native people, such as the nomadic Tonkawa and Apache, foraged for pecans and blackberries and hunted for meat.

As Austin began to grow and come into its own as the Capital of Texas, this area we now call Cherrywood and Wilshire Wood was farm and ranch land. Cattle pounded paths and roamed beneath juniper and oaks. Then, in the late 1940s and early 1950s, the city expanded out toward the creek and the neighborhood was plotted and built upon. East Avenue brought cars and more people.

Willowbrook Reach in 1951.
During all this more recent time, our small stretch of the Upper Boggy Creek remained intact. For some unknown and miraculous reason, the area between Cherrywood and 38 1/2 was spared from becoming backyards, which was he destiny of much of the rest of the creek. The creek wasn't channelized with cement, either. The creek and it's surrounding green space remained relatively intact, and still does to this day.

Of course, stormwater runoff increased mightily as impermeable surfaces such as roads, driveways, and rooftops infiltrated the Upper Boggy Creek Watershed. And with that came increased water flows into the creek and a deepening of the creek itself, as the water scoured at the banks and the creek wore down to the underlying limestone bedrock. That's what we can see now along the creek bottom in many places, along with some fossils (if you go down in there and get a little wet and dirty).

The City of Austin Watershed Protection Department was given the property to care for in the 1980s.

Willowbrook Reach in 2009
Over the past decades, local residents of the neighborhood have had differing views about what the Willowbrook Reach should look like and purpose it should serve, but all along have loved the place for its uniqueness in this very urban city. They have planted trees and wildflowers, cleaned up trash, played touch football, harvested mulberries, meditated, run, walked, visited and walked dogs here for decades. And all along, the wildlife has been calling the place home too. Hawks and owls, herons and frogs, turtles and butterflies, snakes and rodents. All of us there on the Reach, sharing this precious island of green.