The Ultimate Community Builder on a Summer Day: A Swimming Hole
By Tina Antolini
Here in Brooklyn, New York, it’s hit 90 degrees nearly every day for weeks. Having grown up on the coast of Maine, I’m used to having lots of convenient bodies of water around to jump in whenever the weather even contemplates getting that hot . . . in this city, it’s not so easy. A sprinkler or an accidentally opened fire hydrant is often your best bet. But, in Austin, Texas—where 90 degrees on a summer day is routine—there is one place to be when the day is broiling: Barton Springs.
This is not your ordinary swimming pool. It may have diving boards, yes, and over-excited children, but it’s fed by the fourth largest natural spring in Texas. You might see a salamander swimming with you, and the water stays a miraculously cool 68 degrees year round. For nearly a century now, Barton Springs has been a gathering place for Austinites of all walks of life. You might see a tech nerd stealing away for a dip on his lunch break, or an aging hippy lazing the day away—the Springs collect them all. In fact, some consider Barton Springs to be a holy place; according to the city of Austin’s website, hundreds of years ago Native Americans called them the “Sacred Springs,” and came there to heal their wounds. When we were in the city reporting for SOTRU’s Austin episode, I heard from a couple of different people that a sunrise trip to Barton Springs was among their top spiritual experiences of all time.
In recent decades, the Springs have also been a force for rallying the community to political action. In the early 1990s, a group of residents came together over concerns about a 4,000 acre development project planned for the Barton Creek watershed. One city council meeting on the project went all night, with everyone from kids to grandmothers testifying at 2 and 3 o’clock in the morning about their love for Barton Springs and worries for its health if the development went forward. They formed the Save Our Springs Alliance (SOS), which managed to get enough citizen signatures to put one of the strictest water quality ordinances in Texas on the city ballot in 1992. It passed the overwhelming majority of the vote, and is credited with starting an environmental movement in Austin that’s still going strong. (For a great documentary film about the Save Our Springs movment; check out The Unforeseen.)
Alright, enough sweating through this summer day indoors (minus air conditioning!)… I going to go see if I can break open a fire hydrant. And be sure to look for our Austin episode this fall!