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Go Salamanders! Barton Springs University Graduates Its Second Class

Miguel Gutierrez Jr.
Bill Bunch of Save Our Springs Alliance speaks to students about the history and lore of Barton Springs on September 28, 2016.

Education should be a lifelong pursuit, but who has that kind of time? That’s why the idea of one-day university would be intriguing to those looking to expand horizons in a tight time frame. So, earlier this week, some Austinites packed up their number two pencils and swim trunks and headed off to Barton Springs University.

The one day symposium is a day of learning – and lounging – for students and pool regulars.

And, like any school, it didn’t take long for Barton Springs University to develop cliques.

The “nerds” marveling at how “super-neato” the evolution of oxygen acquisition in aquatic insects is (because different insects developed in different epochs, of course).

The “jocks” urging a classmate to take the plunge in the splash contest.

And the older students, who should have graduated a long time ago, like Brian Moore.

“I’m gonna tell you, I’m a big fan of Barton Springs,” said Moore. “I’ve been swimming here for 40 years. The more I come here, the more I appreciate it.”

Credit Miguel Gutierrez Jr. / KUT
From left to right: Mariah Chappell and Abigail Martin measure the pH levels at Barton Springs on September 28, 2016.

BSU even has its own mascot.

“The salamanders are kind of a mascot,” said Nathan Bendik of Austin’s Watershed Protection Department. “They represent our values as a community in the sense that, if we protect them and they still persist because of what we believe in, that reflects well upon us. And they’re interesting little critters.”

Barton Springs U offers basic courses, like the pool’s place in Austin lore.

Bill Bunch, with the Save Our Springs Alliance, told the story of J. Frank Dobie, Walter Prescott Webb and Roy Bedichek – before they became names on middle schools – to students as they entered the pool.

And then inside, there’s the source of the pool itself – the actual spring.

“See the big fracture?” asked Bunch. “That’s the big fracture the water comes out of.”

Barton Springs Pool is fed directly from Edwards Aquifer through that crack.  Barton Creek, which is routed around the pool, only indirectly feeds the springs through the aquifer. Just some of the basics you pick up at BSU.

Credit Miguel Gutierrez Jr. / KUT
Attendees of Barton Springs University await their turn on the pool's diving board.

But, before you think this is some party school where kids go to wile the day away, take note: There is some serious learning to be had here.

Like the discussion led by Robin Gary of the Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Conservation District on testing water samples found in nearby water sources, like the Trinity and Edwards Aquifers, as well as Austin Water from the tap.

Save Our Springs says approximately 800 high school and middle school kids were on hand for the morning session and a number of adults at BSU in the evening – or as one might call it, night school.

There were discussions on water management, the water cycle and the waters’ biodiversity.

Samuel Winget is a junior at the Griffin School is poking around a tray filled with some of that biodiversity. When asked what was in it:

“Freshwater macro invertebrates,” responded Winget, barely missing a beat.  “So, yeah, things that don’t have backbones, snails, things like that.”

Credit Miguel Gutierrez Jr. / KUT

Besides a better understanding of macro invertebrates and larger creatures, what are students are supposed to get out of Barton Springs University? Sharlene Leurig with the Water Forward Task Force for the City of Austin wants students to think big, because the city's beginning a 100-year supply plan. 

“It’s something that is going to shape the future of the city  and potentially the future of the Colorado River downstream. And that’s something that is driven by people who care, and who volunteer, and who make their voices heard, Leurig said. "And, so, I want them to understand their voices matter and they’re going to shape not just the next five years of water for the city, but the next century of water for the city.”

After all, single-day college is what you make of it.

An important question, now that students have completed Barton Springs University, may be whether their credits transfer. But, as far as celebrating graduation from Barton Springs University goes, Winget has a simple response.

“After all of this? I’m going to jump in the pool. It’s been a long hot day.”

Jimmy is the assistant program director, but still reports on business and sports every now and then. Got a tip? Email him at Follow him on Twitter @maasdinero.
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