The soon-to-open Brazos Park East Trail will offer something new to Waco’s river trail system: A scenic walk in the woods, but without mud or poison ivy.
The 1.3-mile trail extension from Herring Avenue to the confluence of the Brazos and Bosque rivers is functionally complete and should officially open in the next month as grass gets established, parks officials said.
The lighted concrete hike-and-bike trail winds through a canopy of towering cottonwood, cedar elm and bur oak trees, with a lush understory of shrubs that provides cover for songbirds, foxes and deer.
“The way I’ve been describing it is that it’s a taste of wilderness for people who usually don’t get out and experience it,” city parks planner Tom Balk said. “A lot of people have never been to Brazos Park East, much less the woods.”
The $2.6 million trail extension was funded 80 percent through state transportation grants and 20 percent by the city. The trail has been under construction since 2012 and still is blocked by barricades, meaning that hikers enter at their own risk until the city signs off on the contractor’s work, Balk said.
Balk said the project links Brazos Park East, formerly Cameron Park East, with a riverside trail system that is more than 5 miles long. The park was recently renovated, but it hasn’t gotten the traffic it deserves, Balk said.
He said many people don’t realize how large the 60-acre park is because they don’t know that the woods are part of the park.
The trail curves out of the woods once it hits the open area of the park and skirts the outside of the fence so that it doesn’t have to be closed during big events at the park.
The wooded section of the trail was a new challenge for park planners, Balk said. The trail was designed around large “specimen trees,” including a stand of bur oaks near the entry to the woods.
Trees along the edge of the trail were marked and protected from construction with boards.
“We wanted to have as narrow a construction area as possible to preserve trees,” he said. “We ended up with minimal damage.”
The trail is mostly surrounded by woods but occasionally jogs toward the riverfront, offering unique views of Cameron Park, including the Cameron Park Clubhouse that sits atop a bluff.
The disc golf association put a course through the woods in the early 2000s, but disc golf has been confined to the developed section of the park since construction began.
Disc golf officials will work with the city to reinstall disc golf equipment in the woods in the next few weeks, resulting in an 18-hole course.
Joey Harrell, a board member of the Waco Disc Golf Association, said the new trail will bring attention to a beautiful part of the river.
“It’s going to be great,” he said. “I really think the trail is going to be one-of-a-kind, a unique trail to the area. I like the fact that you’re back in the woods in an area that nobody has explored for a long time.”
Harrell said the popularity of disc golf in Waco has “exploded” in the last few years and the course across the river at Cameron Park has become crowded.
The Brazos Park East course, nicknamed “The Beast,” will be more difficult and probably less popular than the one at Cameron Park, but it will be ideal for tournaments, such as one scheduled Aug. 23, Harrell said.
In the meantime, design work is progressing for an extension of the other end of the east river trail, from the Franklin Avenue bridge to Baylor University’s new McLane Stadium.
That trail section will be only two-thirds of a mile long, but it will be a technical challenge to build, city engineer Octavio Garza said. The riverbank there is steep and drops into marsh-like flats.
Preliminary engineering studies recommend building sections of elevated trail on piers in the river between the two downtown railroad bridges and around Buzzard Billy’s restaurant. With more than 600 feet of trail built over the water, the city would have to get clearance from environmental agencies and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which regulates navigable waters.
Garza said he still thinks the project can be completed within its original budget of $3.3 million, 80 percent of which comes from the state. Garza said construction could begin in late 2015 and would take at least a year to complete.