This tour was one of more than 25 free tours organized by The Cultural Landscape Foundation. I chose this one because, even though I had visited Barton Springs on my very first trip to Austin, I still didn’t know much about the place. Our tour guide was Clark, a now-retired city employee with a deep knowledge and love of Zilker Park. Throughout our 90-minute walk, he explained the geology and history of the area and pointed out human impacts on the landscape.
We first walked around the Barton Springs Pool. Built in 1929, this pool is 900 feet long and ranges from 5 to 18 feet deep. It is open year-round, closing only for maintenance or due to flooding. A small entrance fee is charged except during the winter months.
I was surprised to learn that Barton Creek does not actually feed the pool. A bypass tunnel runs under the west sidewalk, diverting the creek water to a spillway that empties just below the pool. If a heavy rainfall overwhelms the bypass tunnel, the pool must be drained and cleaned before swimming is permitted again.
The pool’s water source, Main Barton Spring, lies submerged underneath a roped-off area near the diving board. The spring ensures that the water temperature always stays between 68 and 72 degrees. Some people swim there year-round, but the pool is especially popular during Austin’s scorching hot summers.
Our tour group investigated two other nearby springs: Sunken Garden Spring and Eliza Spring. Both springs were surrounded by rock walls over a century ago and now need extensive repairs. The city is working on a master plan to restore both areas.
Clark explained that the Zilker Park springs provide the only known habitat for two endangered species: the Barton Springs salamander and the Austin blind salamander. Restoration plans will need to take this into consideration.
We walked past the pool along Barton Creek, downstream towards Lady Bird Lake. Two bridges cross the creek: one for Barton Springs Road, built in 1920, and a newer footbridge for the Butler Hike-and-Bike Trail. We admired the entrance signs to Zilker Park and rested at concrete picnic tables that were built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the mid-1930s.
We peeked inside the Zilker Park Caretaker’s Cottage, built in 1930 for the first park manager, Jack Robinson, and his family. His son succeeded him as park manager and also lived in the cottage. The building is currently being restored and will become the park ranger headquarters.
Interested in learning more? An interactive exhibit, Splash! Into the Edwards Aquifer, is located in a building next to the bathhouse. Local advocacy group, Save our Springs Alliance, has interesting information on their web site, plus a spectacular overhead photo of the pool. For an excellent and comprehensive history of Barton Springs, see The Edwards Aquifer Website.
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