Balmorhea State Park superintendent Carolyn Rose points to the “structural damage” park staff discovered back in 2018. (Carlos Morales / Marfa Public Radio)
By Carlos Morales
One of the state’s historic swimming holes has re-opened after nearly a year of being closed.
Often dubbed the crown jewel of West Texas, the swimming hole at Balmorhea State Park is considered one of the largest spring-fed pools in the world. The pool — which each day the San Solomon Springs pumps 15-million gallons of fresh water through — was closed for nine months after park staff found “structural damage” to the pool’s wall during an annual cleaning.
“We are definitely ready to go back to being a real state park,” said Balmorhea State Park superintendent Carolyn Rose. “It’s all about the pool here, that’s the thing.”
The pool opened Friday morning and will remain open for the swimming season.
When the news came down that the pool at Balmorhea State Park was re-opening, Eli Serrano says her kids had just one thing to say.
“Let’s go! Are we gonna go?’ That was their reaction, like ‘let’s go, let’s go.”
Serrano and her three daughters, her mother and her nephew — all Balmorhea natives — were one of the first groups to dip back into the pool’s crystalline waters. Serrano says the pool is part of their identity here. And she knows it means a lot for people throughout the state too, especially with Spring Break around the corner.
“Now that it’s open, we’re like, ‘we’re gonna have so much people,’” said Serrano. “We’re back to reality again.”
While the pool has re-opened, there will be at least one thing unavailable to visitors.
Balmorhea State Park still needs an overhaul to its entire septic system — something Superintendent Rose believed could have delayed the pool’s re-opening. However, Rose said TPWD allowed the pool to re-open without the repairs, which means the park will enforce some conservation measures.
“You can go to the restroom, you can change in the bathhouse, but we will not have showers,” said Rose.
It’s unclear if the park will close again in the future in order to repair the septic system.
In May 2018, park staff discovered “structural damage” to the pool’s interior wall during an annual cleaning. At the time it was unclear what caused the damage. Some were concerned that drilling in the area harmed the pool. But after months of evaluations, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department said erosion caused the wall to collapse.
Shortly after the evaluations, contract workers began repairing the pool. The first order of repair: cutting loose the pool’s high-dive platform. The 14,000-pound structure was lifted by a crane.
The repair process took longer than expected, in part, because contractors took extra precautions. No heavy equipment was used inside the park and workers demolished and removed material by hand. Park officials were concerned with the pool’s age and the endangered species that swim through the natural springs.
Last year, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation — separate from the parks department — announced a fundraiser to help pay for the repairs to the pool. TPWF’s philanthropy director Susan Houston told Marfa Public Radio in early January the group had received more than 550 donations from cities throughout the state and country.
More than half of the donations were under $100 said Stephanie Garcia, a spokesperson with Texas Parks and Wildlife.
“It wasn’t from large companies, which did make significant contributions,” said Garcia. “But it was from the people that actually enjoyed the pool, some of our visitors that were very happy helped reopen this pool.”
One of those companies that made a sizable contribution is Houston’s Apache Corporation. The Texas oil company has had a presence in the Balmorhea area for the last few years. Apache matched the amount TPWF was able to raise, giving $1 million toward the pool’s repair work.
In January, the company’s CEO John Christmann also said the oil company would put another $1 million toward an endowment to preserve the park.
“These funds will be used to establish a permanent endowment that will provide incremental support to assist the park in fulfilling its mission of enhancing visitor experiences and conserving a truly unique resource,” said Christmann.