A popular hiking trail just west of Austin will now be patrolled by Austin police in an effort to keep people from continuing to hike and walk their dogs on the 3 mile path, Statesman.com reports. The police could charge hikers with criminal trespassing.
The River Place Municipal Utility District built a 1 mile trail that was open to the public in the subdivision and in 2009 added a 2.1 mile extension. However, they did this without permission and the extension crosses the city-owned Cortana Nature Preserve, a habitat for endangered species, including the golden-cheeked warbler.
In 2011, Austin closed the extension and put up signs and cameras along the trail to prevent trespassing. People kept using the trail, so this year they've now banned all public use of the trail, including the first 1 mile section that is on River Place land. However, residents are still using the trail and extension.
Last year, city bird surveyors discovered that the trail extension went against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife permit to protect endangered species. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will start managing the utility district's trail and prevent people from using it soon. Doing otherwise might jeopardize the city's permit with the Fish and Wildlife Service.
The River Place Municipal Utility District will soon spend $15,000 to restore the trail extension to its natural state, after initially refusing to do so. Local residents are trying to get the trail reopened for public use and have formed a group to try and prove that the trail's closure was done improperly.