A West Texas summer is brutal in its beauty. The dry heat cracks skin, turns sweaty brows into salt flats, and breathing is akin to swallowing fire. For thousands of years, all beings great and small searching for a little spot of cool in an ocean of Permian brown made their way to the “Oasis of the West.” Water attracts life, and the cool, clear San Solomon Springs located near Toyahvale has served as a watering hole for many over the centuries.
In 1934 the Texas State Parks Board acquired nearly 46 acres surrounding the springs. Between 1935 and 1949, the Civilian Conservation Corps built the facilities that would transform the watering hole into the world’s largest spring-fed swimming pool.
In the many decades since its opening, the iconic pool at Balmorhea State Park has served as a favorite family vacation destination and respite for the road-weary traveler. The 1.3-acre pool is up to 25 ft deep, holds 3.5 MMgal of water and the water temperature stays at 72 F to 76 F year-round, according to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD).
So when news broke in early 2018 that the pool had closed, many were alarmed. The closure was due to the structural collapse of a pool wall caused by years of erosion from the flow of water from the springs.
The Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation (TPWF) established a fund to help raise the estimated $2 million it would take to make the necessary repairs. In August 2018, Houston-based Apache Corp. jump-started the fundraising effort with a $1 million challenge grant, pledging to match all donations dollar-for-dollar up to $1 million. The goal was quickly met, with more than $1 million raised, according to a press release, with about 60% of the more than 575 donations being under $100.
In January Apache CEO and President John J. Christmann IV delivered the check to the TPWF and announced that the company pledged an additional $1 million contribution to establish an endowment to benefit Balmorhea State Park in perpetuity. The endowment will provide resources for the enhancement projects to the park in the future that are beyond standard maintenance projects provided through state funds.
As a child who has dipped her toe in the Springs’ cool waters and found humor in the jarring juxtaposition of a sign offering scuba diving lessons in the desert, I’d like to give my thanks to the TPWF, TPWD, Apache Corp. and all those that contributed to the effort to reopen the park and ensure it is there for future generations.
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