By Carlos Morales
Beginning Sept. 3, Balmorhea State Park will close for extensive septic system repairs. Longstanding problems with the West Texas park’s sewerage have left visitors without access to showers in the pool bathhouses since at least last year.
News of the impending closure hasn’t been announced through the park’s social media accounts, but a notice appears on the park’s website.
Septic system repairs will keep the park closed for six months with a projected reopening date of March 1, 2020. In the last year, Balmorhea State Park has partially closed for other repairs, but this marks the first time during that period that the entire park will close.
It’s unclear at the moment how much it will cost to repair the park’s entire septic system. Marfa Public Radio has reached out to the Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife for comment, but has not yet heard back.
While Houston-based Apache Corp. — which has had a presence in West Texas since 2016 — has created an endowment to “assist the park in…conserving a truly unique resource,” it’s unlikely that the fund will finance the septic repairs.
That’s partially because the endowment has yet to be funded. A spokesperson for the oil company said they will make their first contribution of $250,000 in October and that the endowment will be fully funded on or before December 2022.
But even when the endowment is fully set up, it won’t be used to cover general repair costs. Back in March, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation — which oversees the Apache endowment and serves as the fundraising arm for state parks — said the endowment money is earmarked for specific projects outside of standard maintenance.
“[T]hese funds will be used for beautification and enhancements above and beyond the standard maintenance needs of Balmorhea State Park,” said TPWF associate director Susan Houston.
In the last year, the park has partially closed twice to make repairs to its spring-fed pool. Other, ongoing repairs include upgrades to the park’s motor courts and campgrounds.
The most recent closure lasted roughly three weeks and went into effect after park staff discovered the pool’s drainage gate became “inoperable” and posed a safety hazard to swimmers and divers.
The pool’s more high-profile closure lasted nearly nine months while contractors made $2 million worth of repairs. During a pool cleaning in 2018, park staff discovered what they called “structural damage” to a concrete skirting underneath the high-dive.
Some believed the closure to be a result of seismic activity spurred by recent oil and gas development in Reeves County. But, according to a third-party study, the massive crack in the pool was caused by years of erosion.
In the last 10 years, visitation to the far West Texas swimming hole has greatly increased, causing the park to cap the daily number of visitors.