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Chandra Moira Beal's Splash Across Texas

Page 2

Sunken Gardens
1947 Bathhouse
The Environmental Debate
Endangered Barton Springs salamander
Philosophers' Rock
Pecan tree
Barton Springs Pool

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The Sunken Gardens, enclosed by circular stones, was built between 1935-38 on the south side of the creek by the National Youth Administration. This spring originally powered a mill, then an ice factory. The state's first fish hatchery was established at Sunken Gardens. Most of the walls have washed away and are in need of repair, but the spring still flows. As of this writing, Sunken Gardens will probably be fenced off to protect the Barton Springs salamanders.

A flood in 1935 left four inches of mud in the Barton Springs bathhouse and washed away the Lake Austin Dam. Zilker Park was left under water for days. A new bathhouse was built in 1947 for $180,000. It was designed by Groos and Driscool, the same firm that designed the Deep Eddy bathhouse. The 1947 bathhouse still stands and has large open-air dressing rooms and grassy areas.

During World War II, soldiers wrote to their families about fighting for Barton Springs. It was an Austin treasure. Little did they imagine that the land around Barton Springs would develop rapidly after the war. An environmental debate over the springs has been raging since the late 1950s when the Parks and Recreation staff noticed trash and dead animals in the runoff coming from the Barton Hills subdivision, or what used to be the Rabb land, and high levels of fecal coliform. In the 1960s, an environmental group formed and began addressing these concerns with the Parks Department. A plan for a greenbelt was drawn up but not built, yet the public showed an interest in extending Zilker Park up Barton Creek. However, the city didn't respond and valuable recharge areas in the aquifer were rapidly developed. Robert Mueller was a locker boy and cashier at Barton Springs. He offered to sell a portion of his land, about forty to fifty acres on the south side of the creek from the pool up to Campbell's Hole, but the city declined to buy it. The city passed up several opportunities to buy and protect the land surrounding Barton Springs, and today it is an endangered natural resource.
Barton Springs Pool, Austin Texas
Photo courtesy Chandra Moira Beal, 2001
Barton Springs Pool
Barton Springs does not use chlorine. Between 1929 and 1962, the pool was drained twice per week and cleaned with copper sulfate to remove the algae, which turned some of the rocks blue-green. In 1962, the city stopped using chlorine; instead workers scrubbed it with giant steel brushes pulled by tractors, then flushed it with water from a fire hose. It takes forty-five minutes to drain the pool, and about two hours to refill it. This practice continues today. The endangered Barton Springs salamander survived the entire time that copper sulfate was used to clean the pool. Sheffield has witnessed floods that completely encircled the bathhouse, yet the vegetation always grew back and helped make the water clear because it kept the silt from being disturbed by swimmers. It is unlikely that the salamanders are endangered by chemicals used in Barton Springs. More likely, fecal coliform running off from development all around the springs is the culprit. If fecal coliform counts are above 200 colonies per 100 milliliters of water, and visibility is impaired by more than four feet, the pool closes. The pool also closes as a precaution when there is thunder and lightning, and if more than one inch of rain has fallen over the Barton Creek watershed within twenty-four hours. Folks in Dripping Springs at the headwaters will call ahead to warn us if flooding is imminent. For more information, see the chapter on Organizations (page 337).


Why is there algae in Barton Springs? Every day about noon, a bloom of blue-green algae (oscillatoria) rises to the surface of Barton Springs, turning the crystal clear waters into a murky soup. The City of Austin has been required by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to change their maintenance procedures to protect the Barton Springs Salamander (the salamander was recently added to the Endangered Species List). Unless the pool's flow reaches at least 54 cubic feet per second, maintenance workers cannot lower the pool water to clean. Average flow is currently about 30 cfs. The last time workers were allowed to clean the pool was May 18, 1999. This is a complicated, heated issue. For the full story, see Robert Bryce's recent article:

Philosophers Rock, Barton Springs Austin Texas
Philosophers' Rock (Click on photo for plaque)
Photo courtesy Chia-Wei Wang, August 2006
The 1950s also saw the development of Philosophers' Rock. Roy Bedicheck, a naturalist, J. Frank Dobie, a folklorist, and Walter Prescott Webb, a historian, would gather on a flat rock near the diving board and talk about an infinite number of things. John Henry Faulk, Walter Bremond, and Skinny Pryor were known to drop in. A statue by Santa Fe artist Glenna Goodacre at the main entrance to Barton Springs honors these men. "If I have to fight for this country, I will not fight for the flag, or the American 'way of life', or democracy, or private enterprise or for any other abstractions, which seem cold as kraut to me. But I will fight to the last ditch for Barton Creek, Boggy Creek, cedar-covered limestone hills, blazing star and bluebonnets, golden- cheeked warblers and black-capped vireos... This love of your native land is basic." - Roy Bedicheck.

People often ask about the pecan tree directly across from the diving board on the west side of the pool. No one knows exactly but it is probably several hundred years old. In 1970 people feared it would die so a backup tree was planted behind it. Support poles were built around the original tree and the trunk gutted and rebuilt. The older pecan tree finally succumbed but the stump was saved as a lifeguard throne.

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Barton Springs pool, Austin Texas, summer
Photo courtesy Chia-Wei Wang, August 2006

Barton Springs Pool

Barton Springs

TE Editor's Note: This chapter is the text for pages 27 through 37 of Splash Accross Texas - courtesy of the book's author, Chandra Moira Beal. Thorough in research, rich in history, description and recreational information, this engaging chapter should be read in it's entirety. However, for quick reference for internet users, we take the liberty of breaking up the chapter by topics ( in sequence ) as follows:

  • About Barton Springs
  • Sunken Gardens,1947 Bathhouse, The Environmental Debate
  • Maintenance, & Endangered Barton Springs salamander
  • Philosopher's Rock, pecan tree
  • The Pool
  • The Polar Bear Club, Barton Creek Greenbelt, New Trail
  • Barton Creek
  • Swimming Holes in Barton Creek
  • Zilker Park
  • Botanical Garden, Zilker Zephyr miniature train ride
  • Zilker Hillside Theatre, Austin Nature Center, McBeth Recreation Center, Beverly Sheffield Education Center
  • Butler Brick Company
  • Addendum: Barton Springs Endangered Salamander

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