By Carlos Morales
Balmorhea State Park will soon stretch well beyond the walls lining its historic spring-fed pool, adding some 640 acres to the Far West Texas attraction.
The expansion could include nature trails and scenic views, but won’t immediately be available for the public to access. The 643-acre acquisition has been seven years in the making and will vastly expand the park’s size from 108 acres to a total of 751 acres.
The sprawling tract of land cost $470,000, according to an official with the National Park Service, which oversees the federal fund the land was purchased through. The Land and Water Conservation Fund provided the state with a $235,000 grant, while the Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation, which serves as the fundraising arm for state parks, provided an equal amount of funding.
“This is an exciting acquisition not only from a conservation standpoint but also the opportunity to increase recreational activity for our visitors,” said director of Texas State Parks Rodney Franklin in a press release.
“Wildlife viewing and hiking are core activities at our parks and providing more space for this is critically important, particularly at Balmorhea State Park.”
The 643-acre land acquisition includes Carpenters Hill, a stretch of land originally part of the park when it was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s.
The Land and Water Conservation Fund wasestablished by Congress in the 1960s to “invest in parks, preserve our history and protect our local, state, and national collection of lands and waters,” according to a press release from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. The fund uses earnings from offshore oil and gas leasing to make land and preservation investments. Generally, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department doesn’t receive appropriations from the state legislature to buy land to expand state parks, according to an NPS spokesperson.
While Texas parks have started reopening as the state lifts coronavirus restrictions, Balmorhea State Park remains closed.
The park closed last summer to fix extensive maintenance problems across the entire park.
Multiple contractors are working on a range of projects spanning from a complete overhaul of the park’s sewerage system to finishing longstanding repairs on campgrounds and the San Solomon Courts.
Since May 2018, the West Texas park has closed on three separate occasions — including the most recent closure — for a period that has spanned, so far, 19 months. The first two closures were partial and affected the pool area only. But the most recent closure, which began September 2019, has been park-wide.
The pool’s most high-profile closure lasted nearly nine months while contractors made $2 million worth of repairs to a crack in the concrete lining underneath the high dive. The structural damage was first discovered during a 2018 pool cleaning.
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 it allows.