Putting the Spring Back in Your Step
Located just three miles southwest of downtown Austin, Barton Springs Pool is the perfect place to escape city life and be at one with nature. The three-acre space isn’t your average public swimming pool. It’s fed with fresh water from Edwards Aquifer which gives the pool its trademark emerald waters and helps to maintain the springs’ native ecosystem.
The only man-made aspect of Barton Springs Pool is the concrete enclosure that separates Barton Springs Pool from the rest of the springs. Large grates at either end of the pool allow water to flow naturally from the springs, through the pool and back out into the springs, so patrons can enjoy a swim without disrupting the overall water flow. The bottom of the pool is natural rock coated with green algae, and tendrils of native seaweed wind their way up to the surface of the rippling water.
Within the glistening water resides a plethora of native wildlife including the endangered Austin Blind Salamander, which can only be found in Barton Springs. “[The] salamanders have evolved to really depend upon very clean, clear and almost constant temperature spring waters,” Bill Bunch, Co-founder of the Save Our Springs Alliance, said. Fish dart about in the dark water, as well as crayfish and other aquatic invertebrates. There’s even been the occasional sighting of a river eel. Cormorants, ducks, herons, and cranes also frequent the springs, floating placidly downstream with the current. When they near the grate, they swim back upstream and repeat.
The springs aren’t just packed with wildlife. It has always been a popular site for locals, even before the city of Austin was founded. “Native Americans were there for thousands of years,” Bunch said. “There was for a short time an early Spanish missionary there, as at the other large springs.” The city of Austin grew up around the springs, as it provided power for milling and fresh drinking water.
While the springs still host Native American ceremonies and baptisms every year, this inlet of natural beauty nowadays serves primarily as a getaway from everyday life. Visitors flock to the pool year-round as a way to cool off during the hot Texas summer or kick off the new year at the annual Polar Bear Plunge. From out-of-state tourists to locals, visitors to Barton Springs come from all ages and walks of life.
A dip into Barton Springs is mind-numbing. The quickest splash in the pool means goosebumps and chattering teeth. The water stays at a constant 68-degrees year-round, so whether it’s the height of the summer or the coldest 30-degree day of the Texas winter, visitors have to screw up their courage before taking the initial plunge. A few minutes splashing around is enough time to acclimate to the water, however, even on cold days. With plenty of room both in the water and on the grassy hillsides to social distance, Barton Springs offers visitors an escape from the confines of the pandemic. The natural aesthetic of the pool combined with its popularity among locals is enough for it to be dubbed a little bit of Heaven on Earth, even if it is a little daunting to make the plunge. “Everyone wants to go to Heaven, but nobody wants to die,” Bunch said. “Everybody wants to go swimming at the springs, but no one wants to jump in.”