Sunday, September 17, 2023

A Conversation About Capacity

Zilker Park would like to be welcoming to all. 

But no one enjoys overcrowding at a tourist attraction like Barton Springs Pool in Zilker Park. Here is a recent TripAdvisor review of Barton Springs Pool:

How can we ensure that the park offers "access to the park for everyone in Austin" while preserving the ecological health of the park and improving visitor experiences with less crowding? 

I suggest for 2024: Prepaid reservations and timed-entry.

In summer of 2023, the ecology of the park suffered greatly due to overuse. Climate change hit hard with extra hot temperatures and drought. Poor parking lot locations caused turf damage from uncontrolled pedestrian pathways over 10.5 acres of compacted soil. 54 peak-use days presented possible violations of fire marshall code of capacity limits (approx. 4.5K max capacity inside the pool fence) on days when over 11.5K visitors entered the pool (July 2nd, 8am-10pm). A potential safety issue: If pool patrons are not counted as they exit -- and they aren't -- then we don't have a way to know if the fire marshall's capacity has been exceeded within the pool's fence.

My recommended solution: On peak-use hot summer weekends in Zilker Park, the water-zone must be managed as if it has a capacity limit. Access can be offered equitably, but not every resident and visitor to Austin can come to the park on that one day. Prepaid timed-entry reservations to the pool offers benefits to the visitors' satisfaction, less queueing time for cars and admissions, and parking options can be designed to minimize pedestrian pathways on vegetated soil. Car parking reservations will help control the number of visitors in the creek.

Just FYI, the following park facilities have a maximum capacity.

• Hamilton Pool Preserve in Texas has a capacity limit of 750 people per day

• McKinney Falls State Park in Austin has a capacity limit of 2,000 visitors per day.

• Enchanted Rock State Natural Area in Fredericksburg has a capacity limit of 800 visitors per day.

• Pedernales Falls State Park in Johnson City has a capacity limit of 1,000 visitors per day.

• Garner State Park in Concan has a capacity limit of 2,000 visitors per day.

• Palo Duro Canyon State Park in Canyon has a capacity limit of 3,000 visitors per day.

• Big Bend National Park in Terlingua has a capacity limit of 400 visitors per day in its Chisos Mountains Lodge.

Austin's own Emma Long Metropolitan Park has a PARD-managed advance reservation system. Cars are not permitted to queue at the entrance when the parking lot is “full.”

We've got this! We can make the park experience so much better for visitors while protecting the sensitive turf, trees, and aquifers. Let's make 2024 better with prepaid reservations and timed-entry.

Thanks -- dp

Photo journal:

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