Barton Springs is a spring-fed swimming hole in the heart of Austin, Texas, that is filled by water from the Edwards Aquifer. Barton Springs is on Barton Creek close to where it enters the south shore of Town Lake, and is a major feature of Austin's Zilker Park. It is large, about as long as a football field but not quite as wide, and full of fresh, flowing, non-chlorinated water. Ahhh.

The Springs is a great place to hang out in the summertime. There's a nice green lawn on both sides of the pool, with huge shady trees. It's not uncommon to hear people drumming, playing guitar or other instruments, or see people practicing their juggling. It's the only public swimming pool in Austin where topless sunbathing is legal for both genders (at least, I think this is still the case), but it's not all that commonly practiced by female visitors.

The temperature of the water in the Springs is a constant 68 degrees, Fahrenheit, year-round. In the heat of the summer, this is chilly enough to take the breath away from us pansy-ass Texans, but you do get used to it after about 15 seconds. The only way to deal with it is to jump in all at once. The numbness that ensues is quite refreshing on a 100-degree day. Dedicated swimmers swim laps there all year round; I have never done this, but when the air temperature is freezing, 68-degree water probably feels almost toasty.

Barton Springs is well-loved by Austin residents. It became a symbol for water quality in the late 1980s, with the rallying cry "Save Our Springs." The SOS ordinance, adopted in 1992, was the first water quality protection ordinance in the US which was passed into law as a citizen initiative. It protects Barton Springs and the Edwards Aquifer by limiting development and impervious cover over the Barton Creek watershed. This ordinance was challenged immediately by developers, but it got a boost when the Barton Springs Salamander, found only around three underwater vents in Barton Springs, was listed as an endangered species in 1997.

The pool was formed in the same geological event that created the Balcones Fault. The water temperature is a chilly 68 degrees year-round and the main spring (under the diving board) gushes an average of 27 million gallons of water per day.

The springs have been used by humans for millenia. Native Americans considered the springs sacred and believed the waters had healing powers. In 1837, William "Uncle Billy" Barton bought the land the springs are on, along with several other tracts in the area. The park containing Barton Springs is named after Andrew Jackson Zilker, aka "Colonel Andy", who bought the land in 1901. He donated the land to the city of Austin in stages between 1917 and 1934. The land was first donated to the Public Free Schools of Austin, with the agreement that the city would buy the land from the schools at somewhat inflated prices.

In 1929, the city added the lower dam that extended the pool to its present 1,000 feet in length. The upper dam was added in 1932.

Extremely silly trivia: Robert Redford learned to swim in Barton Springs pool at the age of five, while visiting relatives in Austin.

For more info, visit: http://www.ci.austin.tx.us/parks/bartonsprings.htm

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