Lying on both sides of Lady Bird Lake, this 10.1-mile-long pedestrian and bicycle trail connects many of Austin’s parks and open spaces while providing recreational opportunities and views of the city’s downtown. In 1940 the Tom Miller Dam was built to the north of Red Bud Isle on the Colorado River, and in 1960 the construction of the Longhorn Dam east of Austin created a five-mile-long reservoir called Town Lake (now Lady Bird Lake). While the impounding of these waters was meant to abate flooding and generate hydroelectricity, the lake was also important for recreation. In 1971 the Town Lake Beautification Commission was organized by Mayor Roy Butler, with Lady Bird Johnson serving as its chairperson. A path of crushed granite was laid on both sides of Town Lake, trees and shrubs planted to embellish the formerly flood-scoured banks, and numerous rest points established. Garden clubs donated resources to plant and maintain vegetation, and gazebos were constructed. In 1975 the passage of a capital improvement bond led to further enhancements along the trail, including the construction of new parks such as Auditorium Shores and Festival Beach.
In 2003 the Town Lake Trail Foundation (now the Trail Foundation) was established to enhance the Trail’s infrastructure, renovate trailheads, and plant new trees. The trail was renamed in 2011 to commemorate Mayor and Mrs. Butler’s vision, and in 2014 a 1.3-mile-long boardwalk linked a significant gap in the trail. Designed by Limbacher & Godfrey Architects and the Jacobs Engineering Group, the boardwalk preserves wetland habitat, parallels limestone cliffs, and provides dramatic views.