Barton Springs

Barton Springs Pool.

Photo Credit: Mengwen Cao | Daily Texan Staff

Barton Springs Pool, a historic Austin swimming hole, reopened with finished renovations. 

The grounds improvement project focuses on improving water quality, protecting the endangered salamanders and updating equipment for the safety of the swimmers. According to Barton Springs project manager Robin Camp, the project is resolving erosion issues with muddy water runoff into the pool. This runoff is now being controlled into a vegetative filter system. The gravel parking lot was also paved to rid the lot of dust that would end up in the pool.

“We installed a pump so that we can irrigate the pool water so it's not using the chlorinated city-processed water, which is both environmentally good and its also good for the salamander habitat,” Camp said.

The pool was scheduled to hold a public celebration for the renovations Wednesday morning, but the event was rained out and will be rescheduled. Watershed Protection biologist Liza Colucci said stabilizing the overflowing water is important for the health of the endangered Barton Springs salamanders. The filter system employs a water quality catchment basin to keep excess water from shooting into the pool.

“We tried to control some of the runoff that was entering the pool because the runoff potentially contains contaminants,” Colucci said.

The project’s renovations are for the benefit of not only the patrons, but the surrounding vegetation. Along the pump system, a wheelchair-accessible path was added to the south side of the spring. Additionally, a suspended walkway was added to protect the historic heritage oak trees’ roots.

With the safety of the swimmers in mind, Camp said decayed power lines that were previously not up to code were also replaced. Lights around the spring were also added to increase visibility for the lifeguards monitoring those who prefer to take a dip after dark.

Reflecting the hues of the spring, the City of Austin Art in Public Places program contracted a sculpture made for the Barton Springs Improvement Project with a budget of $26,500. The artist, Hawkeye Glenn, created the sculpture using materials native to Texas, such as pink granite and limestone. According to the art program, the piece can be spun by the viewer, a feature Glenn has said creates a moment of reflection before one enters a sacred place.

Project civil engineer Blayne Stansberry said problems arose with trying to construct within 300 feet of Barton Springs. The Save Our Springs Ordinance restricts developing around the critical water quality zone to protect the watersheds of the Hill Country. To continue with the renovations, the ordinance was amended to allow for erosion control systems to stop sediments from washing down into the pool from the construction.

Journalism senior Mika Locklear said Barton Springs is a place frequented by students as an inexpensive escape from the party scene.

“It’s something that is always an option, even at the end of a paycheck when you’re living off ramen,” Locklear said. “It’s also relaxing. When I’m stressed out, I love to just go and lay out.”

A crowd cheers as Kendrick Lamar performs at the Honda Stage on Saturday during ACL Weekend One.

Photo Credit: Shelby Tauber | Daily Texan Staff

Austin City Limits Music Festival is finally over. While it was a real blast watching bands and people and stuff happen in relation to a music festival, ACL is overrated. Here’s a few reasons we are so glad these two weekends of hell on Earth are finished.


1. Barton Springs Road is finally open. Ever notice how the strongest Chuy’s cravings occur during the onslaught of ACL? It’s absolute torture knowing that Barton Springs, between Mopac to Lamar Boulevard, is a solid mass of music-festival patrons. Now that weekend two of ACL is over, normal traffic will resume and Austinites can wander over to Barton Springs without fear of being forever lost in the ACL masses.


2. All of those clueless out-of-towners have gone home. One weekend full of perpetually confused tourists is hard enough to deal with. Two weekends of those goofballs pushes the limits of even the friendliest Austinite’s psyche. I think we can all agree that if one more person asks where Zilker Park is, we all just might collectively lose it.  


3. The concentration of idiots and goobers in the Austin metropolitan area is diluting as I write. The days of having to watch every self-important moron with an object mounted on a flagpole or staff of some sort shout on the phone to an acquaintance to “just look for the inflatable pig on a stick” are through. And innocent eyes will no longer be exposed to the moves and grooves of festival dancers, which are both fascinating and cringe-inducing. 


4. Phones will receive all of the texts and phone calls they would have received while we were in Austin’s premier cell service black hole, also known as Zilker Park. Trying to get in touch with anyone at ACL is darn near impossible, but it’ll be nice to finally get all of those pictures your friend took of The Cure to prove that it was a bad decision to skip them and see Kings of Leon instead.


5. No more ACL crowd means no more being forced to stand shoulder to shoulder with a stinky bunch of high school kids. Unchaperoned minors run rampant during ACL. Some of them can pass for college kiddos, but tell-tale signs usually include over-zealous face paint, one too many flower crowns and uttering the phrase, “My mom is picking us up at 10.”


6. The cloud of marijuana smoke hanging over Zilker Park will dissipate. ACL attracts its fair amount of stank from both people and narcotics, and it’s about time all of that wafted back into the air vapors above.


7. No more bandanas, aviator sunglasses or perpetually barefoot feet. Over the last few years, fashion at ACL has evolved to near-Coachella levels of obnoxious pseudo-hippies and hipster-wannabes. As weekend two came to a close, the people of Austin could sleep a little sounder knowing that they wouldn’t have to watch painfully self-unaware fashion emergencies gallivant through Zilker Park for a whole year. 


8. All can safely walk around the Barton Springs area without having to wade through crashing sonic waves of nondescript indie rock. Or at least not until South By Southwest. Give those ears a rest for the next five months.

Senior research fellow Lee Walker was a co-founder of Livestrong, president of Dell for four years and a leader in helping Save Our Springs and other civic projects.

Photo Credit: Gabriella Belzer | Daily Texan Staff

Austin focal points, such as Barton Springs, Livestrong and Dell Computer, would not be what they are today without Lee Walker’s leadership.

Walker, a senior research fellow at UT, helped lead civic projects such as Save Our Springs in the early 1990s and a project in the early 2000s to prevent the state from constructing a conventional strip mall instead of developing what is now Triangle Park. Walker also is a co-founder of Livestrong and was the president of Dell Computer for four years.

“Those kinds of quixotic ventures really appeal to me,” Walker said. “I love things that have no chance.”

Though Walker said he valued his work with the diverse array of projects, he also views his experiences as a useful foundation from which he can teach. 

Walker will teach two classes in the spring semester: Pathways to Civic Engagement, a class for Plan II students, and Civic Viewpoints, which will be open to all students.

“[The] class I teach is at the intersection of entrepreneurship and justice and place,” Walker said. “It’s just important to get out into the field and see what’s
going on.”

Walker’s students go on field trips to meet members of the Austin community who are working to improve citizens’ lives.

“I think that’s the beautiful part of civic engagement, that over time you have the opportunity to develop friendships and connections with just extraordinary souls,” Walker said. “It’s a wonderful thing.”

Erin Larson, business honors and Plan II junior, said Walker’s class taught her to challenge the status quo and break the cycles of problems.

“The movers and shakers of the Austin community … not only went about to solve the existing issues or challenges they saw within their communities, but they went upstream, to the very origin of the issues, to attempt to eliminate the problem instead of merely treating the symptoms,” Larson said.

Each year, Walker spends the fall reinventing the class with his teaching assistant. Holland Finley, business honors and Plan II senior, was Walker’s teaching assistant for last spring’s class.

“I think the overarching theme of his mentorship has been to give me and others the confidence that no matter what pathway my life takes, I am able to transform the world for the better,” Finley said.

Walker grew up in Three Rivers, a town in Southern Texas, and as a student there he visited Austin for athletic and academic contests.

“[Austin] was the epicenter of our universe,” Walker said. “We’d come here for the state finals or whatever, and go, ‘Someday, somehow, some way, I will live here because it’s the greatest place on earth.’ There was nothing else like it.”

Upon his 1963 graduation from Texas A&M University, where he studied physics on a basketball scholarship, he received a doctoral fellowship in nuclear physics from NASA. Two years into Walker’s doctoral program, he visited NASA and realized he didn’t want to continue researching cosmic rays.

“I saw what I would be doing and what my colleagues were doing and came out thinking, ‘That is incredibly boring,’” Walker said.

On a whim, Walker decided to apply to Harvard Business School. Though he did not have a business background, or any specific interest in business, Walker said several people encouraged him to give the school a shot. 

Walker said he felt terrified and unprepared when he finally arrived at Harvard.

“My classmates just seemed so sophisticated and worldly and knew a lot about business already,” Walker said. “You really weren’t supposed to go there unless you knew business.”

It was at his first job out of business school that Walker was first introduced to entrepreneurship. While working at Union Carbide, a company that works in chemicals and polymers, Walker met a man who identified as an entrepreneur. 

“He started talking about entrepreneurship … and I think I just cocked my head, like, ‘What a funny word,’” Walker said.

Walker said the trajectory of his career accelerated after he quit his position at Union Carbide. He said he quit
because he felt the company was prejudiced against one of his Jewish coworkers. In response, the company offered him a chief financial officer position at a company in which they had minority ownership.

“Carbide said, ‘First of all, you won’t be working for us,’” Walker said. “‘You’ll be working for this little company.’ That moral choice probably accelerated my career by 10 years because [chief financial officer] is not a job you get when you’re out of school.”

Walker has four children and two grandchildren and spends each summer in Italy with family, but said he has no plans to retire.

“I’m 72 now, and I fully intend to keep [teaching],” Walker said. “I will, when I’m 100, re-evaluate, but I think I would like to continue even then.”

After seven years of planning, the city of Austin will launch its largest renovation of Barton Springs in decades. Barton Springs attracts more than 800,000 visitors every year.

Photo Credit: Charlie Pearce | Daily Texan Staff

Students returning to Austin will see improvements to the perimeter around Barton Springs Pool, a well-known local landmark, as a result of the multi-million dollar campaign to renovate the area — the first large campaign Barton Springs has launched in several decades. 

The grounds improvement project, which is part of a larger Barton Springs improvement plan, will begin in October, although the city of Austin has been planning it since 2006.

Construction projects scheduled for October will include a handicapped-accessible ramp, landscaping to help with tree health, improvements to water quality, paving of the south parking lot and building a metal grid fence to replace the current barbed wire fence. 

The three-acre spring, located in Zilker Park, attracts more than 800,000 visitors every year.

“I go to Barton Springs as much as possible — it’s like a staple of Austin in the summertime,” geography sophomore Amy Leung said. “The people-watching there is prime, and there’s a distinct ‘Austin’ vibe to the whole place.”

While working on the plan, the city consulted various Barton Springs interest groups, such as Friends of Barton Springs Pool and Save Our Springs Alliance.

“Barton Springs is very well-loved, and because Austinites have such a close connection with Barton Springs, there will always be varying ideas on improvements,” aquatics division manager Tom Nelson said. “However, the grounds improvement projects went through three years of extensive meetings to develop the plan that has been approved by Council.”

Michael Cannatti, president of Friends of Barton Springs, said important improvements to the north side of the pool grounds include the tree court area and the gate. Cannatti said the city aims to do the grounds improvements in the off-season. 

“If you want to walk to the south gate, there’s just kind of a rut that’s been eroded by water for years,” Cannatti said. “It’s actually dangerous to walk if you’re able-bodied, and it’s almost impossible if you’re in a [wheel]chair.”

The handicapped-accessible ramp will run from the south gate to the south deck to provide easier access to the water.

Nelson said the improvement will benefit all visitors by providing them with a safer route.

“It’ll kind of wind back and forth through the woods, and at one point there’ll be a little overlook, so you can stop and take a view from the south side,” Nelson said.

The city is making other safety improvements, including burying the overhead power lines.

“There are a lot of positive changes generously expanding what is already beloved about the south lawn area,” Cannatti said. “They have expanded the south side with a new fence that’s set back [farther], so now there’s more space for the south lawn experience, and it’ll be taken care of better because of the irrigation.”

At one point, there were proposals for more ornate artwork at the gate, and although Friends of Barton Springs Pool officials said the proposals would improve the pool’s aesthetic experience, many people wanted to keep the pool’s decorations simple, Cannatti said.

The city of Austin has been vigilant in ensuring that the wildlife at Barton Springs remains protected throughout the construction and renovations, Cannatti said. Austin has a federal permit that protects against development at the pool because of endangered species, and the city biologist monitors proposals.     

“Generally, Barton Springs’ attendance is increasing, and upgrades are necessary to accommodate current and future visitors,” Nelson said.

Barton Springs to open doors for the year, following repairs

Although Texas weather is struggling to make up its mind, Saturday’s reopening of Barton Springs Pool is a sure sign that summer is on its way. 

The pool, which is fed by a natural spring, remains at an average 68 degrees throughout the year, according to the City of Austin website. It has been fully closed since December for repairs to the bypass tunnel and dam. 

Victor Ovalle, public information officer for the Austin Parks and Recreation Department, said Parks and Recreation staff had hoped to have the pool open before spring break, but they are still working to prepare for Saturday’s opening.

“We expect the pool to be open this summer during its normal hours, and we’re glad to have our park patrons back to enjoy the pool in the normal way that they do,” Ovalle said. “We’re hoping that the repairs will help us keep the pool open for a long time. I know our staff is still continuing to work on cleaning to pool in preparation for Saturday.”

Adult admission to the pool is $3, and it is closed on Thursdays for cleaning.

As Austin City Council prepares to make decisions regarding structural changes to Barton Springs, it has a pool of conflicting voices concerned about the proposed changes.

The Barton Springs Pool Master Plan, adopted by the council in 2009, lists various improvements as a way to “return the site to its former glory,” according to the City of Austin. These improvements include working on the infrastructure of the pool, planting and replacing trees in the area, replacing the fence and improving the water quality.

Lewis Leff, chief of staff for Council Member Chris Riley, said several of the changes would require bypassing certain city ordinances to make structural changes. Several of these structural changes, including increasing parking and handicap accessibility, would require using more impervious surfaces. These are impenetrable surfaces including concrete and asphalt that can have negative environmental effects on a natural area.

“Some of the ideas being recommended by staff would require some variances to some ordinances that are in place,” Leff said. “The issues that are coming up are based on some of the suggestions to do an [Americans with Disabilities Act] pass and suggestions to reach the parking, so you’re talking about pervious versus impervious coverings which is always a big deal.”

Leff said the council item, which passed unanimously at the March 7 meeting, originally called for a public hearing to be held March 28. The item was amended to postpone the hearing until April 11 and instead hold a staff briefing on March 28 to allow city staff to outline possible variances and options for the council.

“[The hearing was held] so that folks would come talk about those improvements and if they agree we should be doing variances on certain city codes to let the improvements be made,” Leff said. “The briefing will be useful to help council better understand the issues involved and to make a better decision about what to do.”

Robin Cravey, former president of the Friends of Barton Springs Pool, said there has been too much caution around going forward with the plan.

“I’m baffled by the idea that some people who have cried out over and over for public process now don’t want to go forward with public process,” Cravey said at the meeting. “This project is the culmination of three or four years of public process, and we went through a year of planned process in 2010. This was subsequent to 2007 when the council allotted funding for this project as a short-term project.”

Published on March 25, 2013 as "Barton pool renovations delayed again". 

A documentary screened on campus Thursday night focused conversation on the history of the preservation of the Barton Creek area as a panel discussed the future of sustainable development in Austin. 

The screening featured a movie called “The Unforeseen” and a live panel that included several prominent leaders representing viewpoints of the film, such as Terry Mitchell, a former developer; Brigid Shea, an environmental adviser; and David Sullivan, a city planning commissioner.

“The Unforeseen” follows the political battle between Austin residents and developers over plans which called for the development of 4,000 acres of land around the Barton Creek area. The film explores the theme of big business against local residents, interviewing and portraying in depth figures such as Gary Bradley, the failed leader of the Barton Creek development plan, and former Texas Gov. Ann Richards.

The Center for Sustainable Development, a research center within UT’s School of Architecture, hosted the event.

“Our aim was to appeal to a wide variety of audience members,” said Rachel Tepper, the event coordinator for the Center. “[Students] might not know the political tension that protects Barton Springs but causes a lot of frustration.” 

Tepper also said it was important that people learn about the local policy in Austin and how it relates to the urban environment. She said even though Thursday night’s environmental screening and panel are not part of an established series of events, she looks forward to hosting several panels at UT in the future.

As the film portrayed, after an intensive City Council meeting, the development plans were halted, although as the panel discussed pollution Barton Springs still faces from more recent developments in suburbs outside of Austin.

Shea, a member of the panel, helped create the Save Our Springs Alliance, which helped protect Barton Springs against development. Shea was also instrumental in passing a ballot which established rigid water quality controls on developments around the Austin area. She said it was important for people to “see beyond the short term … to take the actions necessary to preserve and protect.”

Jessica Lee, an environmental science freshman who attended the panel, voiced her concern over the topic of conserving the environment. 

“There’s so much to learn about the environment and issues we are facing,” Lee said. “Raising awareness is one of my top priorities.”

After the screening there was a lively discussion between students and members of the panel.


Zilker Park, home of the Austin Blind salamander, could be affected by increased environmental protection if the species becomes listed as endangered.

Photo Credit: Pearce Murphy | Daily Texan Staff

Four salamander species that inhabit Central Texas might be added to the endangered species list, but city officials say they are prepared for the restrictions associated with this change.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed the Austin Blind salamander, the Jollyville Plateau salamander, the Georgetown salamander and the Salado salamander be added to the endangered species list. Should the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service list the Austin Blind salamander as an endangered species, more environmental protections will be added to Barton Springs Pool and Zilker Park. The Austin Blind salamander lives underground in the aquifer and is occasionally spotted on the surface.

But Chris Herrington, City of Austin environmental engineer, said the city is already prepared for these species to be added. The city is required to have a permit to operate Barton Springs and Austin’s permit is up for renewal. In the request for a renewal, Herrington said Austin is including protections for the Austin Blind salamander.

“As part of our renewal we included Austin Blind as a covered species,” Herrington said. “We are already proposing protections for the Austin Blind salamander that would be part of our new permit.”

Herrington said these protections will be in place whether or not the Austin Blind salamander gets added as an endangered species.

In 1997, the Barton Springs salamander was listed as an endangered species. While he could not provide exact numbers, Herrington said the number of Barton Springs salamanders has increased since they were listed as endangered.

“We take salamander conservation very seriously,” Herrington said. “We believe things that are good for the Barton Springs salamander are good for the Austin Blind salamander.”

As part of the process to add these four salamanders as endangered species, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has requested comment from Bell, Travis and Williamson Counties, the homes to these four salamanders.

Austin has requested more land be designated as a critical habitat for the Austin Blind salamander which would expand the area facing new restrictions.

“The proposed critical habitat does not explicitly include all four surface spring sites in the Barton Springs complex, and it does not include any of the upstream watershed feeding subterranean and surface habitats of Barton Springs,” Austin’s response to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said.

However, Williamson County’s response to the proposed listings does not express support for the restrictions. The county stated adding the salamanders would limit development and it also cited the relationship between Austin officials and environmental groups as indicative of bias.

“The close ties between some City of Austin staff and the local environmental groups, which the [U.S. Fish and Wildlife] Service is fully aware of, should trigger potential ‘bias in the data’ concerns,” Williamson County’s response said.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will make its final decision in August 2013.

Working for the weekend

Photo Editor’s note: Staff photographer Maria Arrellaga went to a number of different places over the weekend to bring back a nice variety of “Wild” images, which, in case you are still uncertain as to what that means, are feature photos that run without a story, and she managed to bring back interesting stuff from each place she went. A protest outside the AT&T Center on campus, Barton Springs, the Austin Country Flea Market, and the PRIDE festival downtown. It looks like she had a more interesting weekend than most people. -Lawrence Peart

Ana Gallo swims laps at Barton Springs Pool Monday afternoon. The pool is set to be drained, repaired and cleaned up as part of a preservation effort engineered three years ago by city officials.

Photo Credit: Jorge Corona | Daily Texan Staff

The Barton Springs Pool and recreation site will soon undergo a face lift with the help of city officials and UT community members.

Spurred by public comments and conversation among city council members about upkeep and safety, city officials drafted a master plan three years ago intended to preserve and improve the Barton Springs Pool facility. According to the Austin Parks and Recreation website, the master plan includes goals for ecological, recreational and maintenance-related projects, as well as short-term projects for accomplishing each goal. Parks and Recreation staff met with members of the Environmental Board Monday night to discuss repairs necessary to maintaining a clean and safe environment for both pool visitors and area wildlife.

“The master plan was put into motion because a lot of the infrastructure at Barton Springs was built in the late 1920s, ’30s and ’40s,” said Tom Nelson, Parks and Recreation aquatics division manager. “With any old structure, it needs some work.”

Nelson said repairs to a bypass culvert pipe are of major importance to those working on the project. The pipe contains several holes limiting its efficiency, and reconstruction was formerly delayed due to concerns of damaging area salamander habitats, he said. Both the Austin blind salamander and the Barton Springs salamander, which inhabit the affected area, are listed as endangered species.

Price said the Parks and Recreation department and Environmental Board members have collaborated in order to develop an eco-friendly repair plan for the culvert pipe, and repairs will begin next fall in order to allow spring and summer visitors to enjoy the pool. 

City officials have also discussed reconstruction of creek dams in order to increase water flow from Barton Springs. Ben Hodges, associate professor in civil architecture and environmental engineering, said the city contacted his department to develop a model explaining the water flow and habitat consequences from possible dam reconstruction. 

“The city is looking at different options for changing the gate on the dams, which would change water velocity and impact the blind salamander,” Hodges said. 

Hodges said the model, constructed by graduate student researchers, is scheduled for completion within the next two years. 

Johnnie Price, Watershed Protection Department engineer and Barton Springs restoration project sponsor, said the culvert pipe serves to carry natural debris and sediment around the pool and deliver it to a dam downstream. 

“If we didn’t have it, we’d have to clean out the pool every time it rained,” Price said.
Dominic Ferrario, Texas Wranglers president and advertising junior, said in addition to relaxing at Barton Springs, members of his organization have also been involved in community service at the site. Ferrario said he and other members participated in a park cleanup last spring by removing debris from the bottom of the Barton Springs pool after it was drained. Ferrario said he believes the debris got to the bottom of the pool because of the damaged culvert pipe. The group plans to complete other community service projects on site this year, he said.

“I think the age of the pool is part of what makes it an Austin landmark,” Ferrario said. “[The Texas Wranglers] had gone out there for some time now so [the cleanup] was a neat way to give back.”

Printed on September 20, 2011 as: City, community to renovate Barton Springs