Dec 23, 2013 - 02:58 pm CST

Good Things Come in Small Packages

Down on Guadalupe near 10th street, sits a historic little square park with sloping green hills and a quaint white gazebo in its center. Despite its modest size (just a bit over an acre), Wooldridge Square Park looms large in Austin’s history.

In 1839, Austin’s master plan included four public squares in the downtown area. Today, Wooldridge is the only one of those that remains in use as it was originally intended—as a public gathering place for events, speeches and music. The square has seen a lot in its 100+ years, including a massive community sing-along for WWI soldiers, political speeches from governors and senators (even the future President Lyndon B. Johnson), musical performances, weddings and giant chess games. But the future of this Austin treasure was not always certain.

After its initial inception, not much was done with the park and it slowly became an informal dump, with trash and rainwater filling its natural bowl-like shape. However, at the turn of the century, a period of civic pride spurred a new interest in the area and Austin Mayor (and park namesake) A. P. Wooldridge sponsored the cleaning of the square and the construction of the centerpiece gazebo. That was the summer of 1909. Since then, many improvements and renovations have been needed to keep up with the wear and tear of an adoring public. If it’s possible for a park to be “loved to death,” Wooldridge almost was.

The latest, significant improvements to the park were completed in the summer of 2013. They included:

  • electrical upgrades
  • light soil amendment
  • new irrigation system
  • new drought-tolerant turf grass
  • 11 new tree plantings
  • mulch for all existing trees

Friends of Wooldridge Square and the Austin Parks and Recreation Department joined forces to:

  • install a new mobile vendor pad with electric connection and gravel surface
  • install five new light fixtures along the interior walkway
  • install new benches and trash receptacles throughout the park

Additionally, the Friends of Wooldridge, the Austin Parks Foundation and the Parks and Recreation Department repaired and painted the historic bandstand gazebo.

The park reopened with a ribbon-cutting and two days of festivities in September 2013. With the strong support of the community, it seems certain that Wooldridge will never again suffer from neglect. This most recent renovation is just the first phase of improvements for the park. The approval of the 2012 G.O. Bond Program included a $1M allocation for Downtown Squares ($200k of which is anticipated for additional improvements at Wooldridge Square). The next steps will begin in the winter of 2014 with a series of public engagement meetings that will lead to a preliminary design phase for the overall park.

Whether you’re a long-time visitor to Wooldridge Park or you’ve never heard of it, now is a good time to visit. Check out the new improvements and get to know this historical, little gem in the heart of downtown.

Nov 27, 2013 - 02:24 pm CST

A pecan tree at Govalle Park.Govalle Park is the perfect spot for a contemplative walk on a chilly Fall afternoon. Brown and yellow leaves crunch underfoot, and the leaves in the tall trees hiss quietly as wind sweeps through them.

The East Austin park, at 5200 Bolm Road, boasts the usual features in the Austin Parks and Recreation Department’s array of parks – playgrounds, a pool, open space and grills. But its crown jewels are the tall Pecan Trees which abound on the grounds.
“The grove of very large pecan trees really does make the park unique,” said Forester Lara Schuman with the Parks and Recreation Department.

It’s easy to identify a pecan tree once you know what to look for. They have scaly bark and the trees are tall – they grow up to 120 feet. And they have compound leaves – meaning 9 to 12 leaves grow out of each branch on the tree.
In the fall, many leaves remain on the trees, while others turn yellow. This time of year is the perfect time to watch them drift slowly to the ground.

“They’re one of our native trees, so they’ve been here for thousands of years,” Schuman said. “They traditionally grow along streams.”

A shallow stream runs through the corner of Govalle. A journey across the footbridge affords views of light dancing on the caramel-colored water surface. The smaller section of the park on the other side contains a ball field.

This, paired with another ball field in the main section of the park and plenty of picnic tables, makes Govalle a candidate for quality time with the extended family over the holidays. Or, its quiet, slumbering essence could foster the opportunity to spend a few moments alone amidst the chaos.

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Oct 30, 2013 - 04:49 pm CDT

A Dia de los Muertos display.A full immersion into Mexican-American culture is in order on Dia de Los Muertos, a unique and festive Mexican holiday full of bright colors, lively music and – classic cars.

Dia de Los Muertos, the Day of the Dead, is a traditional Mexican holiday in which departed friends and relatives are honored in style. The celebration is 1 to 7 pm. Nov 2 at the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican-American Cultural Center (MACC). It will incorporate traditional altars built for the dearly departed, live music by local Latino groups, crafts and activities for the niños and a classic car show.

“It’s part of the culture, and they come to pay respects to the dead loved ones through their cars,” said Linda Crockett, Media Manager and Event Coordinator for the MACC, which is part of the Austin Parks and Recreation system.

Celebrants also bring materials and build their own altars or contribute to a group altar. The altars are offerings for the departed, Crockett said. For instance, if you lost your aunt, you might dress up the altar with her favorite foods or flowers.

But the bright and colorful holiday also is a celebration of life. Food vendors will be selling Latin American dishes, a dead-themed costume contest will bring out the creative with a competitive edge, and kids will decorate sugar skulls, make masks and headdresses, and bead necklaces.

A woman gazes at the altar she created for Dia de Los Muertos.Dia De Los Muertos is the MACC’s biggest event of the year, with about 1,000 people attending. All are welcome, and the event is just one more opportunity for the MACC to live out its mission – to give Hispanics a sense of pride in their cultural identities.

“It’s awakening your pride, who you are and what you’re about,” Crockett said. “We more than just stereotypes, and that’s what we want to show people. We are artists. We are teachers. We are architects.”

The Center itself was designed by famed Mexican architect Teodoro Gonzales de León. It was the product of a 30-year effort to make a Mexican-American cultural center a reality, and offers art exhibitions, special events and cultural arts classes throughout the year.

“The center is a place for pride and enjoyment and discovery,” Crockett said. “We have a lot of people who always show up and say ‘Oh, I didn’t even know you were here.’ We’re like, ‘Yes. We’re here! We’re here! This is your center!’”

For more information about the MACC, visit MACCAustin.org.

Aug 30, 2013 - 03:16 pm CDT

Kids are playing on the playground at Dittmar Park.They go for the games, the sports, and the friendships. They go for birthday parties and to work on their homework. For some South Austin kids, Dittmar Park and Recreation Center is a way of life. 

The park, located at 1009 W. Dittmar Road, boasts a colorful playground with plenty of places to climb, swing and explore.

As the farthest-south recreation center, Dittmar sees many of the same kids participate in its youth offerings, including classes, summer camp and sports.

“The soccer program alone attracts over 300 kids every spring,” said Clay Shelton, Recreation Program Supervisor for the Parks and Recreation Department.

Adults who live nearby utilize the recreation center as well. Its walking paths, shaded picnic areas, and open field attract grownups and kids alike. Its gym is one of the nicest recreation center gyms in Austin, Shelton said. When it’s not occupied by a youth sporting event, open gym hours permit the a-rhythmic echo of basketballs and volleyballs on the shiny wooden floors. For $15 a month, adults can also use a  weight room complete with rows of free weights, weighlifting machines, treadmills and ellipticals.

But the park and recreation center’s most prominent patrons are under four feet. “The playground is always packed on the weekends, and the park is a popular spot for birthday bashes and family gatherings”, Shelton said.

And Fall at Dittmar means a chance for kids to reunite with friends in the recreation center’s After-School Program, a school-year long service for kids ages 5 to 12.

Six kids listen to an instructor out on the field at Dittmar Park. The instructor is holding two soccer balls.“A lot of kids come here after school until they age out,” Shelton said.

Designed to foster youth development through active play and enrichment activities, the After School Program offers a variety of supervised activities including arts and crafts, science projects, nutrition lessons, sports, educational games, field trips and other enrichment activities. A specific time is allotted for homework and snacks.

“I think the kids have fun with their friends and they get to meet kids from other schools because we pick them up from four different schools,” Shelton said. “And I think the parents probably appreciate the homework time.”

At Dittmar, about 30 to 35 kids participate in the After School Program each month, and most come throughout the year.

“We really focus on youth development and doing what we can to help each child reach their full potential,” Shelton said.

For more information about the City’s After School Programs, view the Parks and Recreation Department’s After School Programs Page.

  • Kids play on the playground at Dittmar Park.
  • Kids listen to instructions before playing some soccer at Dittmar Park.
  • Kids pose on the play equiment at Dittmar Park.
  • A long shot of the playground at Dittmar Park.
  • Kids pose for a picture at Dittmar Park.

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Jul 23, 2013 - 03:52 pm CDT

Stone human figures jam to music, reach for butterflies and bask in the shade at Shipe Park’s newest attraction, a glistening poolside mural which was completed in June. It’s a product of community-raised funds, and a demonstration of the self-sufficient spirit which has thrived in Hyde Park since the Austin suburb’s birth.

Five kids stand in front of the new mural at Shipe Park, getting ready to get into the pool.The mural, titled “A Day in the Park”, tells the tale of Hyde Park-area leisurers now and long ago. The neighborhood park at 4400 Avenue G has been a staple in North-central Austin since the late 1920s, said Kim McKnight, Preservation Planner and Cultural Resources Specialist for the City’s Parks and Recreation Department.

“Shipe Park is in one of the City’s oldest neighborhoods, and it’s beloved by the community,” McKnight said. “From the log cabin to the pools themselves, the site and the structures are historic, and it’s a wonderful open space within the heart of the neighborhood.”

A Day in the Park

A black and white photo of the Shipe Park log cabin shelter house.

It only takes a short stroll through Shipe Park to see why the small neighborhood park is so loved by nearby residents.

“We consider Shipe Park to be the heart of our area,” said Alison Young, a Friends of Shipe Park member who lives near the park. “It’s where mothers and children go to connect with other mothers and children on the playground. It’s where lovers come to sit under the trees. It’s where animal owners come to exercise their animals, and it’s where every child in the neighborhood goes to learn to swim.”

The park’s prime location in Hyde Park draws visitors from the homes which immediately surround it. Shipe Park has it all – a small  pool with the gorgeous new mural, a 2-foot-deep wading pool, a playground, swings, basketball and tennis courts, open grassy areas and plenty of trees.

A black and white photo of hte Shipe Park playground in 1940. The playground is crowded with children playing on seesaws and swings. The log cabin shelter house is visible in the background. One of its more interesting features is the in a log-cabin-style shelter house - which is original to the park, McKnight said.

“The early shelter houses were the sites of our very early recreational activities,” McKnight said. Children would perform in the breezeway area, surrounded by parents sitting around the cabin watching the dance recitals or plays. “...the shelter houses in those early parks were these wonderful, multi-purpose facilities that had it all.”

The structure was designed to reflect the character of the neighborhood surrounding it when the park was built in 1928-29. The neighborhood was already booming by that time, according to the Hyde Park Neighborhood Association’s website.

“While fairly steady growth characterized the addition throughout the first decades of this century, its greatest building boom occurred between 1924 and 1935.” the website states.

The park got its name from Monroe Martin Shipe, who more or less founded Hyde Park. In 1891, Shipe began marketing Hyde Park as an attractive suburb for the wealthy away from the hubbub of downtown. Shipe envisioned Hyde Park as a self-sufficient community and encouraged the development of churches, schools and stores in the neighborhood. He also provided mail, street lighting and sanitation services, according to the website.

The community thrived, and maintained the independent spirit that Shipe had instilled in it. The park became an integral part of Hyde Park.

“I just love the fact that there’s generations of families that are still in the same neighborhoods, and they’re playing and swimming in the same park that their ancestors did,” Alison said.

Beloved Volunteers

The sign at Shipe Park. The letters are metal and standing on petrified wood pillars. Throughout the years, neighbors who live near Shipe Park have not merely used the facilities, but improved them. In the late 1990s and early 21st century, neighbors recycled petrified wood from the demolished Petrified Forest Motel to construct the rock wall and arching sign at Shipe Park’s northern border.

Galvanized by their success, neighbors formed the Friends of Shipe Park group, which has raised money to plant more than a dozen trees, build an irrigation field to water the trees, plant grass, extend the pool hours, and paint the picnic tables and benches.

The trademark bright blue benches, funded through Friends of Shipe Park, have inspired Sherwin-Williams to name the shade Shipe Park Blue, and the paint color is now used by the Parks and Recreation Department in other parks, Young said.

“When communities come together to commit to improving their own public spaces, the City usually responds in-kind with appreciation and more support for future projects,” Young said. “That’s been one of the greatest things about working with the City that I’ve learned - the more you give, the more you get.”

The Friends of Shipe Park’s newest achievement, the mosaic mural, took an enormous effort to come to fruition. The group started with funds from the Austin Parks Foundation and Hyde Park Neighborhood Association. The vision was to turn a plain wall - which was often a target for graffiti - into a real work of art.

The nonprofit raised more money through small fundraising efforts and appeals for individual donations, and after a year of planning and fundraising, the real fun started.

The mosaic mural was designed and created by artists Holli Brown and Pascal Simon over a two-year period. The artists worked with community members and students from Griffin School to incorporate individual mosaic creations into the larger piece.

Since the mural’s final unveiling in late June, Young said it’s been beautiful watching local kids looking through the mural for the piece they made, and shouting “Mommy, I found it!”

“The mural is such a visual component of the pool now, and we hope that it will inspire other people in other communities to use us as a model, and seek out ways that they can contribute and beautify their own neighborhood park and pools,” Young said.

McKnight said the Friends of Shipe Park exemplify the active volunteer community surrounding Austin’s neighborhood parks.

“They recognize that the most successful parks thrive when there’s an active volunteer community…They’re pretty typical of some of our really dedicated park groups,” McKnight said. “We rely on the support of our beloved volunteers.”

Jun 20, 2013 - 03:09 pm CDT

For generations, the grounds of Lott Park have been a haven for East Austin neighborhood kids. Colorful plastic and metal playground equipment, a lively splash pad and a shady gazebo are tucked into a neighborhood at 1180 Curve Street.

“It’s like a block off of I-35, and if you don’t live in the neighborhood and aren’t real familiar with Austin, you’ll never know it’s there,” said Jimmy Cone, Parks Grounds Manager for the Parks and Recreation Department. 

Two little boys in swimsuits run through the splash pad at Lott Park in 2013.Lott Park is one of the City’s 20 pocket parks – its smallest parks which are designed as a little getaway for neighbors rather than citywide attractions.

Lott Park has all the essentials – a playground complete with slides and swings, a basketball court, a grill for cookouts and an uncrowded splash pad for quick relief from the summer heat.

“Most of the pocket parks are like that,” Cone said. “They’re really cool to just escape for just a little while, and they’re quiet and you can relax for a while and get away from the telephone.”

But the land that is now Lott Park wasn’t always a place to relax. More than a century ago, it was absent a few park benches and instead held benches of students.

From Packed Benches to Park Benches

Early records of Austin indicate that the park land once supported a school for African-American students, which was called by various names throughout the years – first Robertson Hill School then Anderson High School, then, after Anderson High School moved to another location, Olive Street School.

The school was built by 1885 and its conditions were evaluated in an 1887 account in the Austin Daily Statesman. In that account, A.P. Wooldridge, superintendent of Austin Public Schools, stated that it was in good condition, but still had many of the problems typical of the era’s segregated schools. For example, during class time children were crowded into rows of uncomfortable backless benches.

“In these rooms the children are rather packed or penned than seated, to the great detriment of health as well as manners,” the article states.  By 1896, the school had an enrollment of 84 students, and in 1904, the number rose to 177.

The building was eventually abandoned, and in 1947, the school burned, according to a 2000 report, “Historic Resources Survey of East Austin, Texas.”

In 1953, Lott playground was developed on the site. It was named after Harry Lott, one of Austin’s first postal carriers. Harry Lott and his wife, Louise, were “prominent within the East Austin African American community,” according to the “Historic Resources Survey”.

1953 also was the year another prominent community member was born. Dallas Cowboys football star Hollywood Henderson was born in East Austin and remembers visiting the park from an early age. The park featured a shallow wading pool, sandboxes, monkey bars, swings and a merry-go-round, Henderson said in a phone interview.

“It was one of the early Six Flag Over Texas for the kids in East Austin,” Henderson recalled. “It was well-attended, well-used, and whoever designed it really designed it for little people…it was a little people park.”

At that time, East Austin was a wholly African-American community, Henderson said, and Lott Park was the farthest West he and his family ventured to travel in Austin.

“There was not a wall or a gate or anything, but… it was pretty much a square chalked-out segregated community of East Austin, with the heartbeat being 12th and Chicon,” Henderson said. “At that corner you had a cab stand, Ralph’s Grocery Store, the barber shop, Harlem Theatre, 2 or 3 barbecue places, 6 or 7 beer joints, a couple of live music venues, many churches, and it was a contained community called East Austin.”

A Safety Zone

As Henderson pursued his football career, things in East Austin started to change. Henderson said his was the last class to graduate from Anderson High School before bussing began in 1971 and the school was shut down.

Drastic changes in the community also caused the park to suffer and languish, according to the City of Austin’s Lott Park Management Statement. The Parks and Recreation Master Plan in 1980 rated it as the worst neighborhood park in the city.

In 1980, 10-year-old Jerome Muhammad moved with his family from North Austin to East Austin, right next to Lott Park. At the time, the playground consisted of a single slide and a three-seat swing, and the park also featured a wading pool and a basketball “slab.’”

The basketball hoop had no net, Muhammad recalled, and it was so close to the road that the ball would often roll out of the court and down the sloped Catalpa Street.

“Whenever the ball went out of bounds we hated it because we had to run all the way out in the  street,” Muhammad said. “It was a long run.”

But despite its pitfalls, the park was a pillar in Muhammad’s childhood. It had a small barbecue pit and a couple of picnic tables where they would have family gatherings, and during the day when Muhammad would play in the park, it felt like a safety zone from crime that happened in the neighborhoods nearby.

“I never felt any fear,” Muhammad said. “I never felt unsafe or anything when I was at the park.”

A man playing basketball at Lott Park on a sunny day. The basketball can be seen almost falling into the hoop.A Sunrise in East Austin

Muhammad still lives near the park to this day, but things have changed since his childhood. In 2006, grant money became available to revitalize Lott Park.

The budget for Lott Park improvements was $582,500. Of that, $20,000 came from Parkland Dedication, $62,500 from a Texas Parks and Wildlife Grant and $500,000 from an Urban Parks and Recreation Recovery Grant, according Sara Behunek, Public Information Specialist Senior for the Capital Improvements Office.

The scope of work included relocation of basketball goals, removal of existing playscapes and installation of two new playscapes, a splash pad, an irrigation system, a retention pond, a shade structure and ADA improvements.

“It’s really nice now,” Muhammad said. “You can take your kids down, it’s still safe…it’s improved big-time. They re-did the basketball court. It’s larger now, and they have a fence around it.”

Lott Park’s new façade exemplifies the revitalization that is occurring in the neighborhoods surrounding it. Attractions such as the Carver Museum and Cultural Center and the newly-opened African American Cultural & Heritage Facility celebrate the strength and vitality of the City’s African-American population.

The neighborhood is now interspersed with colorful public art, such as the Reflections mural on East 11th Street and local attractions such as the Tiny Park art gallery. And the park itself remains, as it has for generations, a refuge for East Austin kids.
 

May 28, 2013 - 09:24 am CDT

The meandering paths and rolling hills of Butler Park lend it an air of mystery; you never know what you’ll find around the corner at this diverse central Austin locale.

The Park, located at 1000 Barton Springs Road on the South side of Lady Bird Lake, offers prime playing, nature-watching, walking, picnicking and exercising territory for Austinites looking for respite from the city.

A photo of Butler Park's splash pad at night. Several jets of water shoot up from the ground and are lighted different colors: magenta, yellow, red, green and orange. The lush green grounds of the park offer a taste of nature while still affording breathtaking views of downtown Austin across the lake water. It’s the perfect spot to step back from the urban jungle and take a picture.

“The view of downtown in that park is just awesome, so that’s one of the main draws, I believe.” said Charles Vaclavik, Central Parks Division Manager for the Parks and Recreation Department.

The park is relatively new – it opened in August 2007, and since has become an attraction to a wide variety of visitors.

Its trees shade Austin’s finest feathered friends – parrots often can be seen intermingling with grackles on the green.  Its open green space attracts picnickers, families and dog owners.

Nature lovers are drawn to its pond, which is packed with turtles and fish. 

“That’s one of the quiet places people just like to sit and observe nature and look at the fish and the turtles,” Vaclavik said. “You have to balance that with the fountain - and the exercise groups, and the bicycles - there’s just always something going on.”

Its paths attract bikers, joggers and walkers. The park also plays host to many exercise classes. 

“We allow fitness instructors to come in and have their classes there,” Vaclavik said. “They have to register and be permitted…All of them take care of the park and they utilize it for the community, so we recognize that.”

Other unique features of the park are its splash pad and its tall Doug Sahm Hill, which affords breathtaking views of downtown.

The splash pad is open late in the evenings and is the only one in Austin that features light shows, Vaclavik said. In the summer, it’s always teeming with delighted kids.

While kids run around in their swimsuits, others visit the park in more formal attire. The Doug Sahm Hill, a tall hill on the property, is often used for wedding photos for the views it affords of the City skyline. A concrete path spirals up the hill so it is easy to climb, and guests who summit it are greeted by benches and an inlaid map of Texas on the hilltop.

The park is busy all the time, Vaclavik said. About 400 to 500 people probably visit Butler Park each day, and there’s ample parking on Riverside Drive and Barton Springs to accommodate the patrons. It’s free to get into the park and play in the fountain, and the City takes care to maintaining the park.

“I just think it’s one of our premier parks, and we recognize it’s one of the crown jewels of Austin that pol enjoy coming to,” Vaclavik said. “We take pride in making it nice and green and the fountain working so people can enjoy coming to it.“

Apr 30, 2013 - 09:58 am CDT

Human Beings, Barton Springs Share a Deep History

Swimmers are once again gracing the crisp, cool waters of Barton Springs after a repair project closed the pool down for about 3 months. 

A crowded Barton Springs Pool.
A lifeguard at Barton Springs Pool.

Helpful Links

**Barton Springs Pool Schedule
**Barton Springs Environment
**Barton Springs Salamander
**Austin Blind Salamander
**Barton Springs Pool Master Plan
**Austin History Center

Regulars swim laps at Barton Springs Pool.
A Barton Springs Salamander.
A Barton Springs Salamander is held in a human hand. It stands perpendicular across three fingers.
An Austin Blind Salamander in its natural habitat.
 
Native American arrowheads were found near Barton Springs. Photo provided by the Austin History Center.
Emmett Shelton found this flint by Barton Springs on Feb. 22, 1917. It is called a preform and it is believed to have been used by Native Americans for trade. Photo provided by the Austin History Center.
A painting by A.M. Rumsey, 1882, shows three-story Barton Springs mill and the dam. Photo provided by the Austin History Center.
Barton Springs during the 1890s. 13 people sit in two boats, presumably on a rowing trip.

The project entailed the repair of a bypass culvert, which helps protect the water quality in Barton Springs and allows the pool to remain open after most small storms. The culvert was originally built in 1974 and was suffering from age and wear and tear. In 2008, it was discovered that holes in the bypass culvert were draining water from the pool. The holes were temporarily plugged, but this project provided a long-term solution to protect continued use of the pool.

The popular pool, which opened at the beginning of April, attracts about 500,000 folks each year, said Jodi Jay, Aquatic Program Manager for the Parks and Recreation Department.

“It’s a unique setting,” Jay said. “It has its own community, its own feel and its own culture. Our regulars are there year round with us.”

Along with the avid swimmers who dip into the 68-degree waters all year round, bass, turtles, fish and other wildlife also are permanent members of the Barton Springs community.

The pool is naturally filled with dammed-up creek water, and all the critters that come with it. Among the pool’s habitants are irreplaceable and fragile species of salamander.

Saving Salamanders

Barton Springs Pool is home to the endangered Barton Springs Salamander as well as the Austin Blind Salamander, a candidate species for endangered listing.

The Barton Springs Salamander (Eurycea sosorum) is a small (1/2" to 3" long), obligately aquatic, perennibranchiate (retaining juvenile characteristics, such as gills, throughout its life) salamander that is solely located at Barton Springs, Austin, Texas.

Although some of the first specimens of the Barton Springs Salamander were collected in 1946, the species was not formally described until 1993. The salamander was given the taxonomic name, Eurycea sosorum, in honor of the citizens of Austin, who initiated and passed the SOS (Save Our Springs) Ordinance in 1992 to protect the Edwards Aquifer.

The Barton Springs Salamander only occurs in the four springs, collectively known as Barton Springs, in Zilker Park.  This includes Parthenia Spring, Barton Springs Pool, and three other springs (Eliza, Sunken Garden, and Upper Barton). 

While repairing the pool’s culvert, the City underwent extensive efforts to protect the salamanders. Biologists report that the immediate effects on salamanders in Eliza Spring and in the pool were as expected or less. They found a few salamanders in the construction areas. These salamanders were in good health and were taken back to the habitat they've enjoyed for a very long time.

Back in the Day…

The now-restored tradition of bathing in Barton Springs dates back thousands of years to Native American hunter-gathers who settled near the springs, according to an essay by Leonard Voellinger in “Barton Springs Eternal”. 
Blades, hunting weapons and figurines found in the springs suggest a long-term human occupation. Some of these artifacts date back 10,000 years:

“It is a popular notion these days, and not too hard to fathom, that these people appreciated a spiritual relationship with this great spring, but the day-to-day significance of these waters was probably more closely related to the variety and abundance of nearby resources.”

There’s also some evidence of Spanish habitation near the springs. In 1730 three Spanish missions were built near Zilker Park, according to Spanish records. The missions were there for less than a year, and little evidence exists of their presence today, aside from rock wall ruins found about three miles upstream from the Springs.

One hundred years later, the area was settled by its namesake, William Barton and his family. William Barton named the three springs near his cabin after his daughters Parthenia, Eliza and Zenobia. But the names didn’t stick, and today the three springs are Barton Springs pool, Elks Pit (the fenced off area near the concession stand) and the Sunken Garden, which is downstream from the pool on the south bank.

In 1839, the Republic of Texas selected the settlement of Waterloo (later renamed Austin) as the new capital of Texas. According to “Barton Springs Eternal”, the selection committee specifically mentioned Barton Springs as “the greatest and most convenient flow of water to be found in the Republic.”

The springs were owned by the Barton family for the next 20 years, and passed from private owners until 1918, when A.J. Zilker donated it to the Austin School District and it was transferred to the City of Austin.

Mar 18, 2013 - 05:06 pm CDT

The icy chill of a pool in early spring is no shock to Dan Morrias, one of the regulars who have been frequenting Deep Eddy Pool this month.

“It makes me feel good and it keeps me in good health,” Morrias said by the poolside one March morning. “I’m 66 and I’ve never had a major health problem in my life.”

Morrias has been swimming every day since 1975, mostly at Barton Springs. He’s diverted to diving into Deep Eddy Pool when Barton Springs Pool is closed.A swimmer makes a lap in Deep Eddy pool.

Like Barton Springs, Deep Eddy is a freshwater swimming pool. The water is cleaned out and replaced with fresh well water every day on alternating sides of the pool, so there is one new pool to jump into each day, said Jodi Jay, Aquatic Program Manager for the Austin Parks and Recreation Department.

The 600,000-gallon concrete pool is surrounded by grass and trees, and in the spring it is quiet – devoid of the splashing children, flying floatation devices and gleeful screams of summer.

This time of year, the only sounds are steady, discrete strokes of confident swimmers and the bright songs of golden-cheeked warblers in the trees.

It’s also an historic site, Jay said. The pool, established in 1915, is the oldest swimming pool in Texas.

It began as a swimming hole in the Colorado river, according to the Friends of Deep Eddy website.

“Cold springs rose from the river banks and people swam in the river where a large boulder formed an eddy. In 1915, A.J. Eilers, Sr. bought the land surrounding the swimming hole and built the concrete pool. The pool served as the centerpiece of a resort, the Deep Eddy Bathing Beach, which featured cabins, camping, and concessions,” the website states.

The pool today is owned by the Parks and Recreation Department, and is open year round. During the winter, loyal lap swimmers show up every day, Jay said. On warmer winter days, sun bathers lay out on the hill and as the weather warms in the Spring, families and college students being showing up for a recreational swim and some sun.

“The thing about all of our pools is they all have their own communities,” Jay said.

More information about Deep Eddy Pool.

 

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Feb 14, 2013 - 04:33 pm CST

A craggy flagstone path winding around a babbling brook sets the scene for the whispered words of lovers as they meander through the lush Taniguchi Japanese Garden.

The garden, part of Zilker Botanical Garden, is an ideal local for an afternoon date, said Margaret Russell, a Program Manager for the Austin Parks and Recreation Department. That’s why Zilker Botanical Garden is February’s Park of the Month.A couple stands on a bridge at Zilker Botanical Garden.

“The Taniguchi Japanese garden is a wonderful, seductive place,” Russell said. The winding hidden paths, pristine water and quiet setting give the garden a spiritual aspect, she said. “The sensibility of it all would be really romantic.”

Zilker Botanical Garden, located at 2220 Barton Springs Road, was built in 1960 through the efforts of Austin garden clubs. Along with the Taniguchi garden, the 26-acre park features several themed gardens, including: a rose garden;a butterfly trail;an oak grove; a children’s garden;an herb garden; a cactus garden; a sustainable garden and a pioneer village.

Despite its proximity to downtown traffic, the garden manages to evoke a sense of natural wonder, like an oasis in the desert. The plant-lined paths prevent most views of the outside world, so the inevitable sounds of city traffic could instead be imagined as waves breaking on a beach.

A japanese sculpture is reflected in clear pondwater at Zilker Botanical Garden.The only other noise is the light trickle of water and the scurry of wildlife such as nesting red tailed hawks, a pair of fox and roaming armadillos.

The animals share the park with more than 116,000 visitors each year. The gardens attract folks from all walks of life – from 5-year-old girls interested in faeries to gardening experts who volunteer their time, Russell said. It’s popular for weddings as well as memorials.

“It’s a wonderful, living place to come together and celebrate,” Russell said.

The park hours are 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. until March 10. After that, the park will be open until 7 p.m. daily. Admission is $2 for adults and $1 for children and seniors. Non-resident admission is $3 per adult.

View a printable map of the garden

Nov 27, 2013 - 02:24 pm CST

A pecan tree at Govalle Park.Govalle Park is the perfect spot for a contemplative walk on a chilly Fall afternoon. Brown and yellow leaves crunch underfoot, and the leaves in the tall trees hiss quietly as wind sweeps through them.

The East Austin park, at 5200 Bolm Road, boasts the usual features in the Austin Parks and Recreation Department’s array of parks – playgrounds, a pool, open space and grills. But its crown jewels are the tall Pecan Trees which abound on the grounds.
“The grove of very large pecan trees really does make the park unique,” said Forester Lara Schuman with the Parks and Recreation Department.

It’s easy to identify a pecan tree once you know what to look for. They have scaly bark and the trees are tall – they grow up to 120 feet. And they have compound leaves – meaning 9 to 12 leaves grow out of each branch on the tree.
In the fall, many leaves remain on the trees, while others turn yellow. This time of year is the perfect time to watch them drift slowly to the ground.

“They’re one of our native trees, so they’ve been here for thousands of years,” Schuman said. “They traditionally grow along streams.”

A shallow stream runs through the corner of Govalle. A journey across the footbridge affords views of light dancing on the caramel-colored water surface. The smaller section of the park on the other side contains a ball field.

This, paired with another ball field in the main section of the park and plenty of picnic tables, makes Govalle a candidate for quality time with the extended family over the holidays. Or, its quiet, slumbering essence could foster the opportunity to spend a few moments alone amidst the chaos.

Tagged:
Park of the Month
Oct 30, 2013 - 04:49 pm CDT

A Dia de los Muertos display.A full immersion into Mexican-American culture is in order on Dia de Los Muertos, a unique and festive Mexican holiday full of bright colors, lively music and – classic cars.

Dia de Los Muertos, the Day of the Dead, is a traditional Mexican holiday in which departed friends and relatives are honored in style. The celebration is 1 to 7 pm. Nov 2 at the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican-American Cultural Center (MACC). It will incorporate traditional altars built for the dearly departed, live music by local Latino groups, crafts and activities for the niños and a classic car show.

“It’s part of the culture, and they come to pay respects to the dead loved ones through their cars,” said Linda Crockett, Media Manager and Event Coordinator for the MACC, which is part of the Austin Parks and Recreation system.

Celebrants also bring materials and build their own altars or contribute to a group altar. The altars are offerings for the departed, Crockett said. For instance, if you lost your aunt, you might dress up the altar with her favorite foods or flowers.

But the bright and colorful holiday also is a celebration of life. Food vendors will be selling Latin American dishes, a dead-themed costume contest will bring out the creative with a competitive edge, and kids will decorate sugar skulls, make masks and headdresses, and bead necklaces.

A woman gazes at the altar she created for Dia de Los Muertos.Dia De Los Muertos is the MACC’s biggest event of the year, with about 1,000 people attending. All are welcome, and the event is just one more opportunity for the MACC to live out its mission – to give Hispanics a sense of pride in their cultural identities.

“It’s awakening your pride, who you are and what you’re about,” Crockett said. “We more than just stereotypes, and that’s what we want to show people. We are artists. We are teachers. We are architects.”

The Center itself was designed by famed Mexican architect Teodoro Gonzales de León. It was the product of a 30-year effort to make a Mexican-American cultural center a reality, and offers art exhibitions, special events and cultural arts classes throughout the year.

“The center is a place for pride and enjoyment and discovery,” Crockett said. “We have a lot of people who always show up and say ‘Oh, I didn’t even know you were here.’ We’re like, ‘Yes. We’re here! We’re here! This is your center!’”

For more information about the MACC, visit MACCAustin.org.

Park of the Month
Aug 30, 2013 - 03:16 pm CDT

Kids are playing on the playground at Dittmar Park.They go for the games, the sports, and the friendships. They go for birthday parties and to work on their homework. For some South Austin kids, Dittmar Park and Recreation Center is a way of life. 

The park, located at 1009 W. Dittmar Road, boasts a colorful playground with plenty of places to climb, swing and explore.

As the farthest-south recreation center, Dittmar sees many of the same kids participate in its youth offerings, including classes, summer camp and sports.

“The soccer program alone attracts over 300 kids every spring,” said Clay Shelton, Recreation Program Supervisor for the Parks and Recreation Department.

Adults who live nearby utilize the recreation center as well. Its walking paths, shaded picnic areas, and open field attract grownups and kids alike. Its gym is one of the nicest recreation center gyms in Austin, Shelton said. When it’s not occupied by a youth sporting event, open gym hours permit the a-rhythmic echo of basketballs and volleyballs on the shiny wooden floors. For $15 a month, adults can also use a  weight room complete with rows of free weights, weighlifting machines, treadmills and ellipticals.

But the park and recreation center’s most prominent patrons are under four feet. “The playground is always packed on the weekends, and the park is a popular spot for birthday bashes and family gatherings”, Shelton said.

And Fall at Dittmar means a chance for kids to reunite with friends in the recreation center’s After-School Program, a school-year long service for kids ages 5 to 12.

Six kids listen to an instructor out on the field at Dittmar Park. The instructor is holding two soccer balls.“A lot of kids come here after school until they age out,” Shelton said.

Designed to foster youth development through active play and enrichment activities, the After School Program offers a variety of supervised activities including arts and crafts, science projects, nutrition lessons, sports, educational games, field trips and other enrichment activities. A specific time is allotted for homework and snacks.

“I think the kids have fun with their friends and they get to meet kids from other schools because we pick them up from four different schools,” Shelton said. “And I think the parents probably appreciate the homework time.”

At Dittmar, about 30 to 35 kids participate in the After School Program each month, and most come throughout the year.

“We really focus on youth development and doing what we can to help each child reach their full potential,” Shelton said.

For more information about the City’s After School Programs, view the Parks and Recreation Department’s After School Programs Page.

  • Kids play on the playground at Dittmar Park.
  • Kids listen to instructions before playing some soccer at Dittmar Park.
  • Kids pose on the play equiment at Dittmar Park.
  • A long shot of the playground at Dittmar Park.
  • Kids pose for a picture at Dittmar Park.

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Park of the Month
Jul 23, 2013 - 03:52 pm CDT

Stone human figures jam to music, reach for butterflies and bask in the shade at Shipe Park’s newest attraction, a glistening poolside mural which was completed in June. It’s a product of community-raised funds, and a demonstration of the self-sufficient spirit which has thrived in Hyde Park since the Austin suburb’s birth.

Five kids stand in front of the new mural at Shipe Park, getting ready to get into the pool.The mural, titled “A Day in the Park”, tells the tale of Hyde Park-area leisurers now and long ago. The neighborhood park at 4400 Avenue G has been a staple in North-central Austin since the late 1920s, said Kim McKnight, Preservation Planner and Cultural Resources Specialist for the City’s Parks and Recreation Department.

“Shipe Park is in one of the City’s oldest neighborhoods, and it’s beloved by the community,” McKnight said. “From the log cabin to the pools themselves, the site and the structures are historic, and it’s a wonderful open space within the heart of the neighborhood.”

A Day in the Park

A black and white photo of the Shipe Park log cabin shelter house.

It only takes a short stroll through Shipe Park to see why the small neighborhood park is so loved by nearby residents.

“We consider Shipe Park to be the heart of our area,” said Alison Young, a Friends of Shipe Park member who lives near the park. “It’s where mothers and children go to connect with other mothers and children on the playground. It’s where lovers come to sit under the trees. It’s where animal owners come to exercise their animals, and it’s where every child in the neighborhood goes to learn to swim.”

The park’s prime location in Hyde Park draws visitors from the homes which immediately surround it. Shipe Park has it all – a small  pool with the gorgeous new mural, a 2-foot-deep wading pool, a playground, swings, basketball and tennis courts, open grassy areas and plenty of trees.

A black and white photo of hte Shipe Park playground in 1940. The playground is crowded with children playing on seesaws and swings. The log cabin shelter house is visible in the background. One of its more interesting features is the in a log-cabin-style shelter house - which is original to the park, McKnight said.

“The early shelter houses were the sites of our very early recreational activities,” McKnight said. Children would perform in the breezeway area, surrounded by parents sitting around the cabin watching the dance recitals or plays. “...the shelter houses in those early parks were these wonderful, multi-purpose facilities that had it all.”

The structure was designed to reflect the character of the neighborhood surrounding it when the park was built in 1928-29. The neighborhood was already booming by that time, according to the Hyde Park Neighborhood Association’s website.

“While fairly steady growth characterized the addition throughout the first decades of this century, its greatest building boom occurred between 1924 and 1935.” the website states.

The park got its name from Monroe Martin Shipe, who more or less founded Hyde Park. In 1891, Shipe began marketing Hyde Park as an attractive suburb for the wealthy away from the hubbub of downtown. Shipe envisioned Hyde Park as a self-sufficient community and encouraged the development of churches, schools and stores in the neighborhood. He also provided mail, street lighting and sanitation services, according to the website.

The community thrived, and maintained the independent spirit that Shipe had instilled in it. The park became an integral part of Hyde Park.

“I just love the fact that there’s generations of families that are still in the same neighborhoods, and they’re playing and swimming in the same park that their ancestors did,” Alison said.

Beloved Volunteers

The sign at Shipe Park. The letters are metal and standing on petrified wood pillars. Throughout the years, neighbors who live near Shipe Park have not merely used the facilities, but improved them. In the late 1990s and early 21st century, neighbors recycled petrified wood from the demolished Petrified Forest Motel to construct the rock wall and arching sign at Shipe Park’s northern border.

Galvanized by their success, neighbors formed the Friends of Shipe Park group, which has raised money to plant more than a dozen trees, build an irrigation field to water the trees, plant grass, extend the pool hours, and paint the picnic tables and benches.

The trademark bright blue benches, funded through Friends of Shipe Park, have inspired Sherwin-Williams to name the shade Shipe Park Blue, and the paint color is now used by the Parks and Recreation Department in other parks, Young said.

“When communities come together to commit to improving their own public spaces, the City usually responds in-kind with appreciation and more support for future projects,” Young said. “That’s been one of the greatest things about working with the City that I’ve learned - the more you give, the more you get.”

The Friends of Shipe Park’s newest achievement, the mosaic mural, took an enormous effort to come to fruition. The group started with funds from the Austin Parks Foundation and Hyde Park Neighborhood Association. The vision was to turn a plain wall - which was often a target for graffiti - into a real work of art.

The nonprofit raised more money through small fundraising efforts and appeals for individual donations, and after a year of planning and fundraising, the real fun started.

The mosaic mural was designed and created by artists Holli Brown and Pascal Simon over a two-year period. The artists worked with community members and students from Griffin School to incorporate individual mosaic creations into the larger piece.

Since the mural’s final unveiling in late June, Young said it’s been beautiful watching local kids looking through the mural for the piece they made, and shouting “Mommy, I found it!”

“The mural is such a visual component of the pool now, and we hope that it will inspire other people in other communities to use us as a model, and seek out ways that they can contribute and beautify their own neighborhood park and pools,” Young said.

McKnight said the Friends of Shipe Park exemplify the active volunteer community surrounding Austin’s neighborhood parks.

“They recognize that the most successful parks thrive when there’s an active volunteer community…They’re pretty typical of some of our really dedicated park groups,” McKnight said. “We rely on the support of our beloved volunteers.”

Park of the Month
Jun 20, 2013 - 03:09 pm CDT

For generations, the grounds of Lott Park have been a haven for East Austin neighborhood kids. Colorful plastic and metal playground equipment, a lively splash pad and a shady gazebo are tucked into a neighborhood at 1180 Curve Street.

“It’s like a block off of I-35, and if you don’t live in the neighborhood and aren’t real familiar with Austin, you’ll never know it’s there,” said Jimmy Cone, Parks Grounds Manager for the Parks and Recreation Department. 

Two little boys in swimsuits run through the splash pad at Lott Park in 2013.Lott Park is one of the City’s 20 pocket parks – its smallest parks which are designed as a little getaway for neighbors rather than citywide attractions.

Lott Park has all the essentials – a playground complete with slides and swings, a basketball court, a grill for cookouts and an uncrowded splash pad for quick relief from the summer heat.

“Most of the pocket parks are like that,” Cone said. “They’re really cool to just escape for just a little while, and they’re quiet and you can relax for a while and get away from the telephone.”

But the land that is now Lott Park wasn’t always a place to relax. More than a century ago, it was absent a few park benches and instead held benches of students.

From Packed Benches to Park Benches

Early records of Austin indicate that the park land once supported a school for African-American students, which was called by various names throughout the years – first Robertson Hill School then Anderson High School, then, after Anderson High School moved to another location, Olive Street School.

The school was built by 1885 and its conditions were evaluated in an 1887 account in the Austin Daily Statesman. In that account, A.P. Wooldridge, superintendent of Austin Public Schools, stated that it was in good condition, but still had many of the problems typical of the era’s segregated schools. For example, during class time children were crowded into rows of uncomfortable backless benches.

“In these rooms the children are rather packed or penned than seated, to the great detriment of health as well as manners,” the article states.  By 1896, the school had an enrollment of 84 students, and in 1904, the number rose to 177.

The building was eventually abandoned, and in 1947, the school burned, according to a 2000 report, “Historic Resources Survey of East Austin, Texas.”

In 1953, Lott playground was developed on the site. It was named after Harry Lott, one of Austin’s first postal carriers. Harry Lott and his wife, Louise, were “prominent within the East Austin African American community,” according to the “Historic Resources Survey”.

1953 also was the year another prominent community member was born. Dallas Cowboys football star Hollywood Henderson was born in East Austin and remembers visiting the park from an early age. The park featured a shallow wading pool, sandboxes, monkey bars, swings and a merry-go-round, Henderson said in a phone interview.

“It was one of the early Six Flag Over Texas for the kids in East Austin,” Henderson recalled. “It was well-attended, well-used, and whoever designed it really designed it for little people…it was a little people park.”

At that time, East Austin was a wholly African-American community, Henderson said, and Lott Park was the farthest West he and his family ventured to travel in Austin.

“There was not a wall or a gate or anything, but… it was pretty much a square chalked-out segregated community of East Austin, with the heartbeat being 12th and Chicon,” Henderson said. “At that corner you had a cab stand, Ralph’s Grocery Store, the barber shop, Harlem Theatre, 2 or 3 barbecue places, 6 or 7 beer joints, a couple of live music venues, many churches, and it was a contained community called East Austin.”

A Safety Zone

As Henderson pursued his football career, things in East Austin started to change. Henderson said his was the last class to graduate from Anderson High School before bussing began in 1971 and the school was shut down.

Drastic changes in the community also caused the park to suffer and languish, according to the City of Austin’s Lott Park Management Statement. The Parks and Recreation Master Plan in 1980 rated it as the worst neighborhood park in the city.

In 1980, 10-year-old Jerome Muhammad moved with his family from North Austin to East Austin, right next to Lott Park. At the time, the playground consisted of a single slide and a three-seat swing, and the park also featured a wading pool and a basketball “slab.’”

The basketball hoop had no net, Muhammad recalled, and it was so close to the road that the ball would often roll out of the court and down the sloped Catalpa Street.

“Whenever the ball went out of bounds we hated it because we had to run all the way out in the  street,” Muhammad said. “It was a long run.”

But despite its pitfalls, the park was a pillar in Muhammad’s childhood. It had a small barbecue pit and a couple of picnic tables where they would have family gatherings, and during the day when Muhammad would play in the park, it felt like a safety zone from crime that happened in the neighborhoods nearby.

“I never felt any fear,” Muhammad said. “I never felt unsafe or anything when I was at the park.”

A man playing basketball at Lott Park on a sunny day. The basketball can be seen almost falling into the hoop.A Sunrise in East Austin

Muhammad still lives near the park to this day, but things have changed since his childhood. In 2006, grant money became available to revitalize Lott Park.

The budget for Lott Park improvements was $582,500. Of that, $20,000 came from Parkland Dedication, $62,500 from a Texas Parks and Wildlife Grant and $500,000 from an Urban Parks and Recreation Recovery Grant, according Sara Behunek, Public Information Specialist Senior for the Capital Improvements Office.

The scope of work included relocation of basketball goals, removal of existing playscapes and installation of two new playscapes, a splash pad, an irrigation system, a retention pond, a shade structure and ADA improvements.

“It’s really nice now,” Muhammad said. “You can take your kids down, it’s still safe…it’s improved big-time. They re-did the basketball court. It’s larger now, and they have a fence around it.”

Lott Park’s new façade exemplifies the revitalization that is occurring in the neighborhoods surrounding it. Attractions such as the Carver Museum and Cultural Center and the newly-opened African American Cultural & Heritage Facility celebrate the strength and vitality of the City’s African-American population.

The neighborhood is now interspersed with colorful public art, such as the Reflections mural on East 11th Street and local attractions such as the Tiny Park art gallery. And the park itself remains, as it has for generations, a refuge for East Austin kids.
 

Park of the Month
May 28, 2013 - 09:24 am CDT

The meandering paths and rolling hills of Butler Park lend it an air of mystery; you never know what you’ll find around the corner at this diverse central Austin locale.

The Park, located at 1000 Barton Springs Road on the South side of Lady Bird Lake, offers prime playing, nature-watching, walking, picnicking and exercising territory for Austinites looking for respite from the city.

A photo of Butler Park's splash pad at night. Several jets of water shoot up from the ground and are lighted different colors: magenta, yellow, red, green and orange. The lush green grounds of the park offer a taste of nature while still affording breathtaking views of downtown Austin across the lake water. It’s the perfect spot to step back from the urban jungle and take a picture.

“The view of downtown in that park is just awesome, so that’s one of the main draws, I believe.” said Charles Vaclavik, Central Parks Division Manager for the Parks and Recreation Department.

The park is relatively new – it opened in August 2007, and since has become an attraction to a wide variety of visitors.

Its trees shade Austin’s finest feathered friends – parrots often can be seen intermingling with grackles on the green.  Its open green space attracts picnickers, families and dog owners.

Nature lovers are drawn to its pond, which is packed with turtles and fish. 

“That’s one of the quiet places people just like to sit and observe nature and look at the fish and the turtles,” Vaclavik said. “You have to balance that with the fountain - and the exercise groups, and the bicycles - there’s just always something going on.”

Its paths attract bikers, joggers and walkers. The park also plays host to many exercise classes. 

“We allow fitness instructors to come in and have their classes there,” Vaclavik said. “They have to register and be permitted…All of them take care of the park and they utilize it for the community, so we recognize that.”

Other unique features of the park are its splash pad and its tall Doug Sahm Hill, which affords breathtaking views of downtown.

The splash pad is open late in the evenings and is the only one in Austin that features light shows, Vaclavik said. In the summer, it’s always teeming with delighted kids.

While kids run around in their swimsuits, others visit the park in more formal attire. The Doug Sahm Hill, a tall hill on the property, is often used for wedding photos for the views it affords of the City skyline. A concrete path spirals up the hill so it is easy to climb, and guests who summit it are greeted by benches and an inlaid map of Texas on the hilltop.

The park is busy all the time, Vaclavik said. About 400 to 500 people probably visit Butler Park each day, and there’s ample parking on Riverside Drive and Barton Springs to accommodate the patrons. It’s free to get into the park and play in the fountain, and the City takes care to maintaining the park.

“I just think it’s one of our premier parks, and we recognize it’s one of the crown jewels of Austin that pol enjoy coming to,” Vaclavik said. “We take pride in making it nice and green and the fountain working so people can enjoy coming to it.“

Park of the Month
Apr 30, 2013 - 09:58 am CDT

Human Beings, Barton Springs Share a Deep History

Swimmers are once again gracing the crisp, cool waters of Barton Springs after a repair project closed the pool down for about 3 months. 

A crowded Barton Springs Pool.
A lifeguard at Barton Springs Pool.

Helpful Links

**Barton Springs Pool Schedule
**Barton Springs Environment
**Barton Springs Salamander
**Austin Blind Salamander
**Barton Springs Pool Master Plan
**Austin History Center

Regulars swim laps at Barton Springs Pool.
A Barton Springs Salamander.
A Barton Springs Salamander is held in a human hand. It stands perpendicular across three fingers.
An Austin Blind Salamander in its natural habitat.
 
Native American arrowheads were found near Barton Springs. Photo provided by the Austin History Center.
Emmett Shelton found this flint by Barton Springs on Feb. 22, 1917. It is called a preform and it is believed to have been used by Native Americans for trade. Photo provided by the Austin History Center.
A painting by A.M. Rumsey, 1882, shows three-story Barton Springs mill and the dam. Photo provided by the Austin History Center.
Barton Springs during the 1890s. 13 people sit in two boats, presumably on a rowing trip.

The project entailed the repair of a bypass culvert, which helps protect the water quality in Barton Springs and allows the pool to remain open after most small storms. The culvert was originally built in 1974 and was suffering from age and wear and tear. In 2008, it was discovered that holes in the bypass culvert were draining water from the pool. The holes were temporarily plugged, but this project provided a long-term solution to protect continued use of the pool.

The popular pool, which opened at the beginning of April, attracts about 500,000 folks each year, said Jodi Jay, Aquatic Program Manager for the Parks and Recreation Department.

“It’s a unique setting,” Jay said. “It has its own community, its own feel and its own culture. Our regulars are there year round with us.”

Along with the avid swimmers who dip into the 68-degree waters all year round, bass, turtles, fish and other wildlife also are permanent members of the Barton Springs community.

The pool is naturally filled with dammed-up creek water, and all the critters that come with it. Among the pool’s habitants are irreplaceable and fragile species of salamander.

Saving Salamanders

Barton Springs Pool is home to the endangered Barton Springs Salamander as well as the Austin Blind Salamander, a candidate species for endangered listing.

The Barton Springs Salamander (Eurycea sosorum) is a small (1/2" to 3" long), obligately aquatic, perennibranchiate (retaining juvenile characteristics, such as gills, throughout its life) salamander that is solely located at Barton Springs, Austin, Texas.

Although some of the first specimens of the Barton Springs Salamander were collected in 1946, the species was not formally described until 1993. The salamander was given the taxonomic name, Eurycea sosorum, in honor of the citizens of Austin, who initiated and passed the SOS (Save Our Springs) Ordinance in 1992 to protect the Edwards Aquifer.

The Barton Springs Salamander only occurs in the four springs, collectively known as Barton Springs, in Zilker Park.  This includes Parthenia Spring, Barton Springs Pool, and three other springs (Eliza, Sunken Garden, and Upper Barton). 

While repairing the pool’s culvert, the City underwent extensive efforts to protect the salamanders. Biologists report that the immediate effects on salamanders in Eliza Spring and in the pool were as expected or less. They found a few salamanders in the construction areas. These salamanders were in good health and were taken back to the habitat they've enjoyed for a very long time.

Back in the Day…

The now-restored tradition of bathing in Barton Springs dates back thousands of years to Native American hunter-gathers who settled near the springs, according to an essay by Leonard Voellinger in “Barton Springs Eternal”. 
Blades, hunting weapons and figurines found in the springs suggest a long-term human occupation. Some of these artifacts date back 10,000 years:

“It is a popular notion these days, and not too hard to fathom, that these people appreciated a spiritual relationship with this great spring, but the day-to-day significance of these waters was probably more closely related to the variety and abundance of nearby resources.”

There’s also some evidence of Spanish habitation near the springs. In 1730 three Spanish missions were built near Zilker Park, according to Spanish records. The missions were there for less than a year, and little evidence exists of their presence today, aside from rock wall ruins found about three miles upstream from the Springs.

One hundred years later, the area was settled by its namesake, William Barton and his family. William Barton named the three springs near his cabin after his daughters Parthenia, Eliza and Zenobia. But the names didn’t stick, and today the three springs are Barton Springs pool, Elks Pit (the fenced off area near the concession stand) and the Sunken Garden, which is downstream from the pool on the south bank.

In 1839, the Republic of Texas selected the settlement of Waterloo (later renamed Austin) as the new capital of Texas. According to “Barton Springs Eternal”, the selection committee specifically mentioned Barton Springs as “the greatest and most convenient flow of water to be found in the Republic.”

The springs were owned by the Barton family for the next 20 years, and passed from private owners until 1918, when A.J. Zilker donated it to the Austin School District and it was transferred to the City of Austin.

Park of the Month
Mar 18, 2013 - 05:06 pm CDT

The icy chill of a pool in early spring is no shock to Dan Morrias, one of the regulars who have been frequenting Deep Eddy Pool this month.

“It makes me feel good and it keeps me in good health,” Morrias said by the poolside one March morning. “I’m 66 and I’ve never had a major health problem in my life.”

Morrias has been swimming every day since 1975, mostly at Barton Springs. He’s diverted to diving into Deep Eddy Pool when Barton Springs Pool is closed.A swimmer makes a lap in Deep Eddy pool.

Like Barton Springs, Deep Eddy is a freshwater swimming pool. The water is cleaned out and replaced with fresh well water every day on alternating sides of the pool, so there is one new pool to jump into each day, said Jodi Jay, Aquatic Program Manager for the Austin Parks and Recreation Department.

The 600,000-gallon concrete pool is surrounded by grass and trees, and in the spring it is quiet – devoid of the splashing children, flying floatation devices and gleeful screams of summer.

This time of year, the only sounds are steady, discrete strokes of confident swimmers and the bright songs of golden-cheeked warblers in the trees.

It’s also an historic site, Jay said. The pool, established in 1915, is the oldest swimming pool in Texas.

It began as a swimming hole in the Colorado river, according to the Friends of Deep Eddy website.

“Cold springs rose from the river banks and people swam in the river where a large boulder formed an eddy. In 1915, A.J. Eilers, Sr. bought the land surrounding the swimming hole and built the concrete pool. The pool served as the centerpiece of a resort, the Deep Eddy Bathing Beach, which featured cabins, camping, and concessions,” the website states.

The pool today is owned by the Parks and Recreation Department, and is open year round. During the winter, loyal lap swimmers show up every day, Jay said. On warmer winter days, sun bathers lay out on the hill and as the weather warms in the Spring, families and college students being showing up for a recreational swim and some sun.

“The thing about all of our pools is they all have their own communities,” Jay said.

More information about Deep Eddy Pool.

 

Tagged:
Park of the Month
Feb 14, 2013 - 04:33 pm CST

A craggy flagstone path winding around a babbling brook sets the scene for the whispered words of lovers as they meander through the lush Taniguchi Japanese Garden.

The garden, part of Zilker Botanical Garden, is an ideal local for an afternoon date, said Margaret Russell, a Program Manager for the Austin Parks and Recreation Department. That’s why Zilker Botanical Garden is February’s Park of the Month.A couple stands on a bridge at Zilker Botanical Garden.

“The Taniguchi Japanese garden is a wonderful, seductive place,” Russell said. The winding hidden paths, pristine water and quiet setting give the garden a spiritual aspect, she said. “The sensibility of it all would be really romantic.”

Zilker Botanical Garden, located at 2220 Barton Springs Road, was built in 1960 through the efforts of Austin garden clubs. Along with the Taniguchi garden, the 26-acre park features several themed gardens, including: a rose garden;a butterfly trail;an oak grove; a children’s garden;an herb garden; a cactus garden; a sustainable garden and a pioneer village.

Despite its proximity to downtown traffic, the garden manages to evoke a sense of natural wonder, like an oasis in the desert. The plant-lined paths prevent most views of the outside world, so the inevitable sounds of city traffic could instead be imagined as waves breaking on a beach.

A japanese sculpture is reflected in clear pondwater at Zilker Botanical Garden.The only other noise is the light trickle of water and the scurry of wildlife such as nesting red tailed hawks, a pair of fox and roaming armadillos.

The animals share the park with more than 116,000 visitors each year. The gardens attract folks from all walks of life – from 5-year-old girls interested in faeries to gardening experts who volunteer their time, Russell said. It’s popular for weddings as well as memorials.

“It’s a wonderful, living place to come together and celebrate,” Russell said.

The park hours are 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. until March 10. After that, the park will be open until 7 p.m. daily. Admission is $2 for adults and $1 for children and seniors. Non-resident admission is $3 per adult.

View a printable map of the garden

Park of the Month