President’s Report

Every year offers a new lesson in stewardship at Barton Springs Pool.

by Robin Cravey, president

This year May brought record heat again.  Drought lies like a burning brown blanket over the hill country.  Global warming is up.  Springflow is down.

Despite all that, the Pool looks good.  The water is clear and sweet.  It’s a far cry from 2006, another drought year, when the water was slimy and green.

Several things have conspired to bring the Pool to this healthy state.  Our first Thursday springs cleaning parties have become more and more effective.  The plantlife in the Pool that was in a state of riot last year has been tamed.  And the removal of a huge load of flood debris from the deep end has allowed the lifeguards to perform a real thorough cleaning down  there.

Not all of the Pool looks good.  It’s easy to find the habitat areas, now, because they look like swamps.  They look like experiments in benign neglect.  They need some serious attention, and soon.

The bad news is that the global warming curve is pointing up.  Scientists say a hotter dryer climate is coming to Austin.  We ought to start taking this into account as we plan for Pool maintenance and improvements.  For example, everything we plant should be drought-tolerant.

We should also stop talking so much about keeping Austin weird and start talking more about keeping Austin cool.  That means reducing the urban heat island effect.  Stop the generation of urban sprawl and the commuter lifestyle.  Plant a lot of trees.

Of course, the focus for FBSP will always be the Pool, the Pool grounds, and near surroundings.  We’re going to apply our stewardship to whatever comes out of the springs and down the creek.  Cool springs: it’s our bubbling jewel!

Quick Dips

2010 Picnic by the Pool

The FBSP Picnic by the Pool is coming up Saturday, June 25th.  It’s going to be great fun.  We’ll have it at the rock garden above the Hillside Theater, where we can have beer! (in moderation, of course)  Join us for some good family fun.

I attended an interesting meeting on the grounds improvements.  Architects Brian Larson and Brad Burns were there, along with arborist Don Gardner, city staff, and others.  We had another rehash of ideas for the tree court.  It’s time we move forward with that.

The Joint Subcommittee of Parks and Environmental held a productive meeting.  Environmental Board chair Mary Gaye Maxwell invited staff members to work on an improved reporting system for the short-term projects.

BSPCC member Emily Little and I have been meeting with the staff to talk about the project to restore the Pool entrance to the central rotunda.  Emily and her colleagues are volunteering a huge amount of professional service to get this project going.

President’s Report

Volunteers on the Earth Day broom line

April was a frantic month for FBSP.  It’s the month of Earth Week and the Treeathlon.  And our regular activities didn’t stop.

Everyone who’s my age (okay, no comments from the peanut gallery) remembers the first Earth Day in 1970.  It was the first spring after astronauts stood on the moon and looked up at our home planet.  That was the spring that I got active in the environmental movement.  A lot of things started that day.  Things are still starting on that day.

Last year Hill Country Conservancy started a whole week of events called Earth Week.  They offered FBSP the honor of participating, and we have done it with enthusiasm.  This year, Tom Weber and I recruited businesses (Alamo Draft House, Zax Pints & Plates, Red’s Porch, and Strange Brew Coffee) to donate funds on the Give 5 for Mother Earth.  Jonathan Beall organized and led a special Earth Day Springs Cleaning Party.  Emma Cravey got the message out.

Councilmember Laura Morrison kicks off the Treeathlon

On top of that, Mike Cannatti (and his estimable wife Ann Phipps) threw a heck of an event with the second annual FBSP Treeathlon.  This fun family romp raised about $15,000 for the pool, meeting our goal to double the amount raised last year.  The work that goes into this event is huge, and just about every member of the board (and many other members) lent a hand.

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President’s Report

Board recharges the wellsprings of action

by Robin Cravey

FBSP Board
Board members, clockwise from top left: Emma Cravey, Jennifer Malone, Jesse Malone, Mary Yarrington, Mike Cannatti, Tom Weber, Gary Beyer, Robin Cravey, Jonathan Beall. Not pictured: Maria Weber.

I never cease to be amazed at the dynamic energy of our board.  We held our annual spring retreat at the Ginger Man on March 26th. (Thanks Ginger Man!)  Once again we laid out an ambitious agenda for the year, worked out a schedule, and took team assignments to get everything done.

Before getting down to the action, we had to spend some time thinking big.  We kicked that off with a little slide show I put together back in 2007, when the organization was barely a year old, called “FBSP: creating a community,” and a discussion of our visions and goals.  Gary Beyer reminded us of our mission statement, and our bylaws.  And Emma Cravey recounted our achievements from last year.

Charlie McCabe from the Austin Parks Foundation (APF) was our guest speaker.  Charlie is on the Barton Springs Plan Coordinating Committee, our group of advisory allies.  And of course, APF is our fiscal partner in all things financial.  Charlie talked about his experiences working with the Parks Department, friends groups, and parks users.
Moving to the tactical, we laid out our schedule for the rest of the year.

Much of the year is already set.  Our participation in Earth Week activities is underway.  Mike Cannatti and his team are already hard at work on our fun fundraiser, the Treeathlon, which will be April 30th.  And the First Thursday volunteer cleaning parties are on the calendar.

That left us with the Picnic by the Pool, Council Cleans the Pool Day, and the Fall Social.  Roughly, those fall in June, August, and October.  We talked about dates, but still have some bases to touch before setting them definitely.  We also have yet to set a schedule for the hospitality tent outside the pool entrance.

Finally, we all chose up teams, so that every event has at least three board members working on it.  There’s still more room on each team, so write to me if you want to help with one of these events.

President’s Report

New Life for the Tree Court

by Robin Cravey

That oblong stretch of hardscape and pecan trees between the parking lot and the north fence received a new name in 2007:  the Tree Court.  Naming it didn’t make it important, but it did focus attention on its importance.  Now, we are preparing to give the Tree Court a new, softer focus.

As FBSP, in 2006, began to advocate for long-delayed maintenance and improvements at the Pool, we continually pointed to the sad state of the trees around the Pool.  Working through the Master Plan with the consultants, we insisted that the trees should receive care.  When the consultants issued their draft master plan in 2007, they made note of all the trees, but they made special note of that newly recognized place:  the Tree Court.

Preserving the Tree Court became a goal of the Master Plan.  The thought of that place without the towering trunks and fluttering crowns of the pecan trees there was a bleak thought.  Through long and deep study, we learned that the trees there suffer from long lack of care, but they also suffer from the tramp, tramp, tramp of hundreds and thousands of feet packing the soil above their roots.
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President’s Report

Restoring the rotunda entrance, preserving the tree court

by Robin Cravey

Sketch of restored rotunda entrance

From the first days that we  began advocating for repairs and improvements at the pool, one restoration has stood out. Moving the main entrance back to the central rotunda fires the imagination. Now, as we work on the general grounds improvements, is the time to make that move. And it won’t cost much.

Soon members of FBSP and BSPCC will begin a capital campaign to raise money to move the entrance.  It could cost $100,000. We’re going to need help. If you want to lend a hand (or contribute!) email me at

The plan to restore the entrance is simple. Cashiers would receive money at the glass windows in front. Swimmers would enter through a new door in the front wall to the left of the rotunda, then amble through the middle of the rotunda and out the glass doors at the back.  They would arrive outside between the two dressing rooms.

This plan is a simplification of the master plan design, and it was sketched out by Emily Little. She is an architect, a member of the Austin Heritage Society, and a member of BSPCC.

Sketch of new entry

The benefits of this move are many.  Honoring the original grand design of the bathhouse, reducing long lines at the entrance, and improving the sense of place are all important.  But most important is removing the heavy foot traffic from the tree court. That will allow the tree court to change from a busy throughway to a more peaceful and natural place for enjoying the trees.

We are working with Parks Director Sara Hensley, the staff, council offices, and others to realize this goal. Its exciting.

Quick dips

The grounds improvements include many great projects.  They’re in design now.  Construction will begin later this year.  Total cost is projected at $2 million.  I’ve listed a few projects below.

  • Installing a new pump will allow the staff to use another high-pressure hose while cleaning the pool, giving us a cleaner pool.
  • Building an accessible trail from the south entrance to the pool deck will make it possible for parents with strollers and other mobility-impaired swimmers to use that entrance.
  • Burying the power lines and installing new lighting will add to the beauty of the pool.
  • Expanding the fenced area on the south side will make room for more swimmers and an improved layout.

President’s Report

Pool will close January 24th for flood debris removal.

by Robin Cravey

The flood debris in the Pool almost began to seem like the weather.  As Mark Twain said, everyone talks about it, but no one does anything about it.  But that’s about to change.

City Parks Dept. staff will give the contractor the go-ahead on January 17th.  The Pool will close to swimmers on January 24th and open again by March 12th.  When it opens, the giant slug of rocks, gravel, sludge, and stuff that raises the deep end bottom from 12 feet to 6 feet will be gone!  The bottom will be 12 feet deep again!

The process will be fascinating, and we’ll be keeping a close eye on it.  The contractors will set up a crane at the top of the hill on the south side.  Workers will set up a coffer dam around the flood debris and dewater that area.  Then the crane will lift out the debris so that it can be trucked away.

Removing the flood debris is part of an overall effort to restore the pool to a more natural state.  In a natural free-flowing creek, the flood debris would be washed down the creek.  Instead, the dam that forms Barton Springs Pool traps the flood debris, and the flood debris acts as a second dam, trapping more flood debris.

The giant bulge grows inexorably, slowly filling the pool and increasing stagnation.  It also traps silt, building up a deep oozing sludge on the bottom behind its rocky wall.  When the pool is full of swimmers, they stir up the sediment, turning the water thickly murky.

Once flood debris was dredged from the pool regularly, but the debris has not been thoroughly cleaned out since 1991.  This was part of a pattern of neglect.
Swimmers rebelled against the neglect of the pool in 2006, and began organizing volunteer cleaning sessions.  We called for action.  After a long public process, the Barton Springs Pool Master Plan was written, urgent short-term projects were funded, and long-term projects were adopted.   Among the short-term projects is removal of the flood debris.

We congratulate the staff on finally moving to get the job done.

Quick Dips

Long time Communications Chair Chasity Keen Larios (right, with FBSP President Robin Cravey) left the board to join the board of the DiscoverHope Fund.  We know she’ll do a dynamite job for them.

Emma Cravey (left) moved from Fun Chair to Communications Chair,
and Mary Yarrington (right) moved from Secretary to Fun Chair.

Pam Nelson (left, with Jane Cravey) joined the board as Secretary.

Star volunteer Kevin French (left, with Service Chair Jonathan Beall) has become our new vice-chair of Service.

Jennifer Malone has been appointed vice-chair of Fundraising.

Several vice-chair positions still available for those with the ambition.