Balmorhea Pool closed indefinitely because of structural damage

Swimmers enjoy the huge spring-fed pool at Balmorhea State Park in West Texas. AMERICAN-STATESMAN file

The spring-fed pool at Balmorhea State Park in West Texas closed indefinitely this week because of structural failure.

Crews discovered damage to the concrete apron beneath the diving board, which stabilizes the walls of the pool, during an annual draining and cleaning of the 1.3-acre, V-shaped oasis this week, officials said. The pool, located about 400 miles west of Austin, is a popular stop for visitors heading to the Big Bend region.

This photo shows damage to the concrete apron near the diving board at Balmorhea Pool. Contributed by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department

Officials are evaluating damage and have not set a date for reopening. The closure comes just as temperatures are heating up and the park’s busy season is about to begin.

“A large section of concrete collapsed in the wall under the high diving board and the remainder of the concrete is in danger of collapsing as well,” said Carolyn Rose, superintendent of the park. “The concrete will need to be removed in order to assess the integrity of the deck that supports the diving board. Once that assessment is made, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department will proceed with any needed repairs.”

The site has long attracted people. Native Americans, Spanish explorers and U.S. soldiers watered up at San Solomon Springs, which pumps out about 15.5 million gallons of water a day, long before the Civilian Conservation Corps turned the desert wetland into a pool in the 1930s. Private concessionaires operated the park until the 1960s, when the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department took it over.

Balmorhea State Park in West Texas on a hot July day. American-Statesman file

More than 153,000 people visited the park between Sept. 1, 2016, and Sept. 1, 2017. On hot summer weekends, the park fills to capacity by noon and cars are turned away.

The enormous pool is 25 feet deep in places, with a natural bottom. Swimming there feels like gliding through a giant aquarium populated by fish of all sizes. It holds 3.5 million gallons of water, and water temperatures hover between 72 and 76 degrees year-round.

The pool has environmental significance, too. It’s home to two small, endangered desert fish – the Pecos gambusia and the Comanche Springs pupfish. Habitats have been created outside of the pool for the protection of the fish and other invertebrates, and officials say they are working to protect the species during the closure.

RELATED: Take a dip in a desert oasis at Balmorhea Pool

The 45-acre desert park’s day use and picnic area will remain open while the pool is closed. The park’s retro, adobe-style 18-unit motor court closed early this year for renovations and should reopen in 2019.

“Balmorhea State Park is a treasured oasis in West Texas that has provided unique recreational opportunities for generations of Texans,” Brent Leisure, director of Texas State Parks, said in a news release. “Our staff is working diligently to address the situation and make sure the pool is safe for the visitors and the aquatic life in habitats associated with the San Solomon Springs.”

For more information about the park, call 432-375-2370.

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