A beautiful stretch of Williamson Creek is mostly undiscovered by Oak Hill residents, obscured by nearby highway development.
by Leah Gernetzke
OAK HILL – As Williamson Creek winds its curving path through groves of ancient oak trees, rare wildflowers, and un-manicured hills, it’s easy to envision the early settlers and Native Americans who once stood along these banks in admiration of their beauty and natural resources. Today the creek is, in places, still the natural jewel that captivated Comanches and pioneers—most people today just don’t know about it.
It hides just out of sight, with no marked parking or access, behind historic oaks along the highway near the ‘Y’.
That’s why a pioneering group of Oak Hill residents recently formed “Save Oak Hill,” a conservation organization that aims to ensure that future generations have the same opportunity as their predecessors—the opportunity to connect to the natural world, and to enjoy an outdoor space that connects the neighborhood and community.
“Save Oak Hill was founded to raise awareness of our community’s rich history and unique natural features in hopes of preserving and enhancing them. We have a beautiful treasure right next to the highway, Williamson Creek, that is a wonderful, untapped asset to the community, as well as numerous groves of heritage trees,” said Alan Watts, Save Oak Hill’s founder and communications manager. “We also have two State of Texas Historical Commission markers that commemorate Oak Hill’s past. The Old Oak Hill School, built in 1923, sits vacant and is unprotected.”
The group began informally coalescing around four months ago.
“I think what really crystalized it was the idea of needing a group that was beyond a single issue, but was really looking at tying in lots of different community ideas and doing so in a way that could advocate for what we want this community to be,” said David Macauley, a member and promoter of Save Oak Hill. “We’re really looking for the ability to create small action teams where, if somebody is passionate about something, we can connect them with other people that are passionate about that issue—and how can we do it in a way that responds to what’s happening in our communities.”
Macauley also said he hopes Oak Hill residents will view the group as a vehicle to create positive change in the community.
“I would really like to encourage folks to think about not necessarily just things that are happening to our community that they might be against, but rather be thinking in terms of what is it on the positive front that we want?” he said. “What is it that makes us unique, and what do we want to keep, or what opportunities do we have to create some things that maybe we don’t have that would be valuable for the community? Hopefully, we’ll advocate for a better place to live.”
So far, the group has had one official meeting, with another slated for April 16.
“Our first meeting was a great success, with new faces from the community expressing support for what we are trying to achieve,” Watts said. “We are a nascent group, so spreading the word is important. This is a truly grassroots effort, so we’ll be discussing ideas and actions of how we can help preserve and enhance the place we call home.”
Oak Hill residents who went to the first meeting said they have high hopes for the group and are excited about the positive impact it could have in the community.
Andrea Street, a fifteen-year Oak Hill resident, said her main impetus for joining the group is to ensure future generations will still be able to enjoy the majestic beauty of the oak trees and Williamson Creek. She also cited TxDOT’s controversial plan to expand Highway 290 as the catalyst for her passion to conserve the area’s natural heritage.
“Basically I got involved to save the trees and the creek. We feel like that is the bedrock of Oak Hill. Settlers used that creek and they rested beneath those big oaks on their way into Austin. We feel like we would like to save that for future generations,” Street said. “Also we would like to see maybe some hike and bike trails, some park area in that corridor. We’d like for some of that to be used as a community hike and bike trail, and some picnic tables and things like that. So we’d like to see it used by the community.”
Oak Hill residents can get involved with Save Oak Hill in the following ways:
• Sign up for Save Oak Hill’s mailing list for discussion and announcements at SaveOakHill.org
• Join the Facebook group at Facebook.com/SaveOakHill
• Come to one of the following meetings or events:
–The group’s next meeting at the Hampton Branch of the Austin Public Library on Convict Hill Road on Thursday, April 16 from 6:30 – 8 pm.
– Williamson Creek Cleanup, co-sponsored by the Oak Hill Girl Scouts and Save Oak Hill, on Saturday, May 2 (more details with be provided at the meeting on April 16).
– TxDOT’s Context Sensitive Solution Workshop at Oak Hill United Methodist Church on Tuesday, April 7, from 6 – 8 pm.