Austin’s Big Muddy

Three days of music at the Austin City Limits festival Oct. 2-4 included one day of heavy rain, leaving $2.5 million in improvements and new sod at Zilker Park under a layer of mud.

City officials estimate it will take at least a month for the park to recover and reopen.

That didn’t seem to dampen the spirits of festivalgoers, however, who made the most of the recreational opportunity all that mud presented and enjoyed a stellar lineup of music topped by Dave Matthews Band, Pearl Jam and Kings Of Leon.

ACL cleanup crews hit the site Oct. 5, removing only the equipment and supplies that could be carried out by hand to avoid further damage to the grass under the mud, according to the Austin American-Statesman. But as dire as it may have looked, city officials told the paper they expect the new lawn to completely recover.

“We think the grass is still under there, and we think it’s still alive,” Stuart Strong, Austin Parks and Recreation Department assistant director, told the paper. “We’re going to be assessing the situation each day.”

C3 Presents also posted a statement on the fest’s Web site explaining the park’s condition.

“As part of standard ACL Festival preparations, we (C3 Presents) worked with the Austin Parks and Recreation Department to establish a plan for post-Festival maintenance. This plan includes an extended load-out period to allow time for the grounds to dry before breaking down large structures (like stages), taking extra precautions during the load-out process to further protect the grounds, thoroughly assessing conditions, then repairing and resodding areas of the park as needed,” the statement said.

“While many areas of Zilker Park were very muddy, the Austin Parks and Recreation Department states that the grass and root system are still intact. Zilker Park will be restored to pre-Festival conditions, and as always, C3 Presents will be covering the cost of post-Festival park maintenance. Park officials expect Zilker to re-open at the end of October.”

The park’s Great Lawn was closed for nearly a year while C3 Presents and the city worked to level and resod the site in hopes of cutting down on dust that had plagued the festival in previous years. Mother Nature, however, found another way to make her presence known during the 2009 ACL.

YouTube and television footage show concertgoers turning the mud into a virtual Slip-N-Slide, some diving headfirst into the muck. They may be regretting that now, as the American-Statesman reports much of it was actually a substance called “Dillo Dirt,” a compost the city laid down before the grass was planted.

“All yard trimmings collected curbside across the City as well as some of our treated sewage sludge are combined and composted to create Dillo Dirt,” the city’s Web site says. “The heat generated in composting (130 to 170 degrees fahrenheit) is sufficient to virtually eliminate human and plant pathogens. After active composting for over a month, our compost is ‘cured’ for several months, then screened to produce finished Dillo Dirt.”

It’s believed the footsteps of 65,000 people per day during the festival pushed the mud through the sod, despite the contents of 800 bales of hay being spread to absorb the moisture. But by the festival’s final day, there was little escaping what the paper described as a “foul-smelling mixture.”