People can explore from dawn to dusk the 42-acre park at 23000 Lakeview Drive, on the north end of Ballinger Lake.
"We want to see people out there birdwatching, hiking, taking their pets on a leash and enjoying the natural environment," said Curt Brees, assistant city manager, parks, recreation and public works director.
Volunteers are invited to a cleanup of the park that is scheduled to begin after a brief opening ceremony at 9 a.m. Saturday. The cleanup coincides with the national "Day of Service" in remembrance of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
Ballinger Lake Golf Course has been owned by the city since 1970, when a state grant helped cover three-quarters of the $439,410 price tag.
In 1987, more than 61,000 rounds of golf were played at Ballinger Lake, placing it in the top five for nine-hole courses nationwide.
But it declined sharply after that. Between an oversaturated market, the recession, and fewer people devoting themselves to the sport, the number of rounds at the course fell to an estimated 16,000 last year.
On Nov. 5, Hardy Golf, the business contracted to run the course, backed out of its lease with the city, which was to run through 2015.
Golf course operators Tyrone and Carol Hardy said they could not recover financially from the combined effects of the continuing recession and especially bad weather.
Instead of finding a new golf operator, the city decided to transform the land into "a waterfront paradise," with winding trails, picnic tables and interpretive signs.
The park had been closed to the public until Saturday. Three pedestrian access gates will be installed, including one near the boat launch, one east of the clubhouse and one along the park's west boundary. Signs will be located at each pedestrian entrance.
Garbage cans will be there as well, and recycling containers added in the future. Visitors are expected to dispose of any trash at the entry gates.
After an environmental review, park trails will be mowed to a shorter height than the surrounding natural vegetation. Some of the unique areas that are sensitive or possess native vegetation will be considered off-limits to park visitors, to provide habitat areas for birds and wildlife. City officials anticipate developing a master plan for Ballinger Park in 2014.
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