Bid summer farewell with Splash Bash at YMCA

The YMCA TownLake will host a Splash Bash from 1-3 p.m. Saturday. Photo courtesy YMCA

Bid summer goodbye with the annual Splash Bash at the TownLake YMCA this weekend.

The free community event is scheduled for 1-3 p.m. Saturday and will include a pool party with free snacks, games, giveaways, music and a bouncy house. The Y is located at 1100 West Cesar Chavez Street.

The event will also highlight YMCA Camp Moody, which is being developed along Onion Creek, 15 miles south of downtown Austin. The project’s initial phase will include an eight-lane natatorium that the Y is building in partnership with the Hays Consolidated school district.

When the facility is complete, all district first-graders will participate in the Y’s Project SAFE program, which provides free swimming and water safety instruction.

No, you can’t swim there yet – but repairs are starting at Balmorhea Pool

Repairs are set to begin at Balmorhea State Park in West Texas, which has been closed since May. File photo by Jay Godwin/American-Statesman

 

Don’t expect to take a flying leap into Balmorhea Pool in West Texas anytime soon.

But after nearly three months of evaluation, crews are set to begin making repairs to pool walls and a concrete apron beneath the diving board, which collapsed during the annual cleaning and draining of the facility in May.

The 1.3-acre, V-shaped oasis, located about 400 miles west of Austin, draws locals and visitors heading to the Big Bend region. It’s also home to two small, endangered desert fish – the Pecos gambusia and the Comanche Springs pupfish.

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

Years of erosion caused by the flow of water from the springs caused the damage. Repairs are expected to take several months and cost $2 million. Crews will build cofferdams, temporarily remove the diving board, salvage existing brick around the pool edge, remove the failing wall and backfill behind it, then install new walls along the north and south sides of the pool.

RELATED: Balmorhea Pool closed indefinitely due to structural damage

Officials with Texas Parks and Wildlife Department say they are working to protect the endangered species during the project. They have created habitats outside of the pool for the protection of the fish and other invertebrates, and say they are working to protect the species while work takes place.

Balmorhea State Park in west Texas on a hot July day. File photo by Jay Godwin/American-Statesman

No heavy equipment will be used; crews will demolish and remove debris by hand. Cofferdams will allow water to flow through the canals and cienegas while work takes place, and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department staff will monitor water quality and flow to prevent downstream contamination.

“Our plan is to reverse decades of erosive impacts and restore public access to this oasis as soon as possible,” Brent Leisure, director of Texas State Parks, said in a press release. “It’s regrettable that the timing of this issue has prevented Texans from cooling off in their favorite swimming hole for most of this hot summer, but visitors will find an improved park after badly needed improvements are made to the pool, the historic motor courts and the parks’ popular campground.”

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

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.

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 pool measures 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 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.

To make a donation to help fund the repairs, go to http://www.tpwf.org/balmorhea/.

What’s it like to swim across Lake Tahoe? We found out

Lauren Lubus scans Lake Tahoe before the start of the Trans Tahoe Relay on Saturday, July 21, 2018. Pam LeBlanc/American-Statesman

 

I thought I’d turn into a Popsicle, but as it turned out, the water temperature hovered at a balmy 65 degrees Saturday, when I swam across Lake Tahoe as part of a six-person relay team.

That’s well above the 55 degrees we’d been braced for, and barely cold enough to raise goose bumps, as long as you keep moving. And thank goodness for that, because wetsuits aren’t allowed in the Trans Tahoe Relay, which starts in Nevada and finishes roughly 10 miles away in California.

Bret Cunningham, who swims on the same U.S. Masters Swim Team that I do, invited me and my husband to join him for the race. Three other swimmers – David Bruns, Kaleigh Mitchell and Lauren Lubus, all from different parts of the country – flew in to round out our group. We’d each swim a 30-minute leg, then alternate 10-minute turns until we reached the finish.

Team Keep Tahoe Weird, which included three Austin swimmers, navigates its way across Lake Tahoe on July 21, 2018. Pam LeBlanc/American-Statesman

The Olympic Club of San Francisco hosts the event, which starts at Sand Harbor and finishes in Skylandia. Along the way, swimmers cross the deepest section of the lake, which plunges a mile straight down. (Yikes!) This year marked the 42nd running of the relay, and it drew former Olympians, collegiate swimmers, and recreational athletes just out for a nice cruise.

Kaleigh Mitchell dives in to swim her leg of the Trans Tahoe Relay. Pam LeBlanc/American-Statesman

Things I noticed as our team made its slow but steady way across the lake? A massive flotilla of boats, bobbing along in support of the swimmers. The way shafts of light flickered deep into the lake. The cool, full-body hug from Mother Nature. The deep green of the pine trees standing shoulder to shoulder all the way around the basin. The peace and insulated quiet that comes when you’re immersed in water. The splashing and underwater burbling noises. With every breath, the vague outline of mountain peaks in the distance.

And the blue that goes on forever.

I love to swim, and swim four or five days a week here in Austin. Lake Tahoe now ranks in the top five most beautiful places I’ve ever gone swimming. (The bay in Kona, Hawaii makes that list, as do a few pristine high alpine lakes along the John Muir Trail and High Sierra Trail in California. I also love Walden Pond in Massachusetts, Lake Michigan, The Narrows near Blanco, the ocean around Fiji, Barton Springs right here in Austin, a place called Half Moon Cay off the coast of Belize, a spring-fed pool on Independence Creek in West Texas, and about a dozen other places, so I guess I actually can’t pick just five.)

Pam LeBlanc swims next to the support boat during the Trans Tahoe Relay. Other swimmers and boats are seen in the background. Chris LeBlanc for American-Statesman

In all, more than 1,100 athletes competed in this year’s race, which is staged in four groups, based on cumulative age and spaced 10 minutes apart. Our group started with the third wave. Our lead swimmer (thanks David!) dashed off from shore in a group, while the rest of us waited on a support boat, trying to pick him out. We spotted him about 15 minutes in – or he spotted us, since we hung balloons, gold fringe and an American flag on the side of our rental craft to make it stand out.

Most of the team boats were decked out in balloons, ribbons and other accoutrements, including inflatable flamingos, pirate flags and a giant yellow rubber duck. One boat had its own slide, so swimmers could gracefully glide into the lake to make their relay exchanges.

Bret Cunningham, of Team Keep Tahoe Weird, swims his leg of the six-person relay race on Saturday, July 21, 2018. Pam LeBlanc/American-Statesman

It took us 4 hours and 52 minutes to chug our way across the lake. I lucked out and drew the last leg, which meant I got to tag the big buoy marker off the beach and swim in to shore, where lots of families and friends lined the dock to watch.

It costs $750 per team to enter the Lake Tahoe race. That’s a lot, but consider this – it’s divided among six people, and proceeds benefit Keep Tahoe Blue, a non-profit organization that works to protect water quality of the lake, and the parks departments in the villages where the race starts and finishes. Teams also need a support boat. We rented one from a marina near the race start.

If you’re interested in racing next year, go here for more information.

That one’s too far to go? Consider racing in the Lake Travis Relay, set this year for Oct. 20. This year’s 10- to 12-mile race starts and finishes near Emerald Point. Entry fee is $360 (plus $15 per person for ASA membership); registration fees increase Sept. 17 and Sept. 30. Go here for more information.

Lauren Lubus swims across Lake Tahoe during the Trans Tahoe Relay on July 21, 2018. Pam LeBlanc/American-Statesman

Grant will pay for new well at Deep Eddy Pool

Friends of Deep Eddy received a grant from Austin Parks Foundation to drill a new well for Deep Eddy Pool. Ralph Barrera/American-Statesman

 

Five area parks are getting a boost through grants awarded by the Austin Parks Foundation.

On the list of recipients? Friends of Deep Eddy, which landed $25,000 to drill a new well that will provide an additional water source for the much loved spring-fed pool.

In all, the foundation awarded $172,000 in community grants for its spring cycle.

Mabson Fields will get $50,000 for new bleachers, a shade structure and scoreboard, and Patterson Park will get $50,000 for new playground equipment, seating and natural play elements. Barrington School Park received $27,000 to improve access to the Barrington Green Schoolyard, and Murchison Pool landed $20,000 for a new playscape.

As part of its new Park Design Services, the foundation also named Pomerleau Pocket Park as recipient of its first-ever Master Plan project. The foundation will lead efforts to develop a long-range vision for the park.

Austin Parks Foundation is a non-profit organization that works with the city of Austin and the private sector to develop, maintain and enhance the area’s more than 300 parks, trails and green spaces.

For more information or to apply for future grants, go to www.austinparks.org.

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.

Can you swim today? Check website for status of Barton Creek Greenbelt swimming holes

The water is less than 2 feet deep at Gus Fruh Pool this week. Photo by Addie Broyles/American-Statesman

Thinking about heading to the Barton Creek Greenbelt, but unsure if recent rains have filled your favorite swimming hole?

A website created by a former University of Texas student provides current water depth and flow rate information for eight popular natural pools along the creek, where people flock each summer to cool their heels.

The webpage gives information about water depth and water flow rates for eight popular spots on the Barton Creek Greenbelt.

“People like that it’s a quick way to check if there’s enough water to swim,” says Serena Nguyen, who created the Greenbeltnow.com website as a final project for a coding bootcamp she took at the University of Texas.

Nguyen loves to hang out with friends on the Greenbelt, and came up with the project idea after hiking there one day, only to find out her favorite swim spot had gone dry.

Greenbeltnow.com pulls data from the U.S. Geological Survey website, which is updated automatically every few minutes. You can check the status of eight popular swimming spots, including Gus Fruh, Twin Falls and Sculpture Falls.

Because the pools are irregularly shaped and there is not a USGS measuring station at each location, the measurements may not be exact. Still, they give hikers a general idea of swimming conditions.

The website, which went live in June 2017, also gives the temperature and current weather conditions.

A recent check showed that the water is 1.67 feet deep at Gus Fruh Pool on the Greenbelt, and flow is 1.84 cubic feet per second, less than ideal swimming conditions.

The website does more than let you know how your favorite swimming holes are faring.

It got Nguyen, 24, a job. Thanks to the bootcamp project, she now works as a web developer for Mutual Mobile, a downtown tech agency.