Thank goodness for pools in Austin during the summer months. As one of the rare natives in this town, I have fond memories of splashing in the shallow end at Deep Eddy and sunbathing at Westenfield Pool. One summer, I decided to become a lifeguard and drove what seemed like a very long way (in those days, at least) to a pool I had never heard of, Bartholomew, to take my lifeguard test. I spent my days in the standard issue red bathing suits at Ramsey, Reed, Deep Eddy and Westenfield Pools. It was a fun way to spend the summer.
Fast forward twenty-something years and I am exploring my old haunts again, with my Texas-transplant husband and my 8-year-old son. When I heard both West Enfield and Bartholomew were getting extreme makeovers, I had to go to check them out.
I had seen the work being done at West Enfield from my drives south on Mopac. West Enfield is a centrally located neighborhood pool (meaning…free!) near the intersection of Mopac and Enfield Road. Apparently, the Pool, which was built in the 1930s, had leaking cracks along the floor and walls and had to be completely redesigned. When we visited on the day after it opened, West Enfield was barely recognizable.
One definite drawback of visiting West Enfield is that there is no dedicated parking. Most patrons park along the Mopac feeder road, which makes exiting your vehicle a harrowing experience when you have younger kids in tow. The other option is to park on Bridle Path or Sharon Lane, although this is in a neighborhood and you have a ways to lug your children and your gear to get to the pool area.
We opted for the parking along the feeder and made our way up to the pool. The entrance is on the opposite side from the street and there was no obvious pathway to get there (there is a new path leading from Enfield to the pool — I guess for folks who walk from the neighborhood?) The entrance itself is a work of art by Arts in Public Places commissioned artist Alan Knox and also functions as a bike rack. When we entered the pool I immediately noticed there was lots of shade and a separate wading area for the littlest visitors. We quickly made our way over to put down our things on the deck area and jumped in.
There were several lap lanes, an ample shallow end with stairs to enter and a smaller deep end. Although the pool seemed a bit crowded, I attributed this to the opening the day before. There were plenty of places to sit outside of the pool area and the kiddie area looked really nice. I didn’t test out the restrooms, but I have a feeling they were an upgrade from when I guarded there. The pool naturally gets some shade in the shallow end, and a shade similar to what many elementary schools now have on their sport courts helps keep the little ones from getting too much sun. I’m definitely looking forward to returning and enjoying this nice neighborhood pool and making some new memories with my kid.
One other thing you might want to know about West Enfield Park is that there are some nice shaded swings close to the pool. The playscape is rather exposed to the sun, as are the tennis courts and basketball court. There is a large open field which is perfect for kickball and is rarely in use.
Although I had more of a connection to West Enfield, truth be told, I was more eagerly anticipating our trip to Bartholomew Pool. Residents had been waiting five years since the pool was deemed structurally unsound for it to be rebuilt, and the word on the street was that it was worth the wait. City Council member Mike Martinez welcomed crowds at the grand opening on June 13th by comparing Bartholomew to Schlitterbahn. We had swim lessons the first week the pool was open, and I was reluctant to visit on a weekend, so I took my son and his friend on the following Monday afternoon after they finished their art camp.
The parking lot was buzzing with activity, but it was easy to find a spot. Although Bartholomew is a municipal pool, paying $5 for an adult and two kids seems like a steal compared to many of the other options out there. The pool was very crowded, but my companions were unfazed. Despite the crowds, there were plenty of spots to put down your things on the grass and on raised concrete dividers. For a “new” pool, there was also a surprising amount of shade to sit in, although admittedly it was mid-afternoon.
There were also about a dozen picnic tables which were all taken during our visit. I sent the kids to the men’s restroom to change while I waited outside, so I didn’t check the women’s restrooms myself, but I assume they were adequate. There was an area marked Vending, but it was locked up, which was fine by me, since we didn’t have much time and I didn’t want to buy anything for the kids like a water ice which you can purchase at Deep Eddy. We did bring in snacks, which of course, the kids tore into right when we entered the pool. I was preparing myself for a lifeguard to tell us we couldn’t have outside food, or we needed to eat somewhere else, but a few walked by as the kids gorged themselves on Pirate’s Booty.
Our first stop were the water slides. As is the case with most slides in the area, the minimum height is 48 inches. There is a measuring tool at the bottom and top of the stairs to see whether kids are tall enough to ride. I took an informal poll with the kids in line with us and they were all big fans of the slides, just as my son and his friend soon were. The line moved quickly, and the slides were perfect for beginners. In the hour or so that we visited, the boys were able to try out both slides a few times each.
Then we headed over to the lily pad “bridge”. I decided to skip it myself but both boys shouted with joy after making it across successfully. We jumped into the adjoining kid pool, which was the perfect depth for the kids and was partially shaded. For something different, after a little while we went to the other pool designed for kids. There was a deeper section, a lap lane which was unused during our visit and a diving board. My son made sure to get in a canonball off the diving board during our visit. The second pool, which was a similar depth, had a bench-like step down, which made it easier to get in and out.
After some more slides, I had to break the bad news to the kids: it was time to head home. We could have easily spent another hour there, but it was a good introduction. I’d definitely recommend going on a weekday if you can, especially since it just opened and is so popular. The pool doesn’t open until 11am for recreational swimming, and the slides don’t open til noon, so my guess would be going right at lunchtime might be your best bet.
Bartholomew Park, adjacent to the pool but quite a walk in the hot summer across the parking lot, also has a lot to offer. There is a splash pad with a shade cover, a few playscapes, swings and an area my kid loved as a toddler with a pretend train, bus and schoolhouse.
Has anyone made it to either of these “new” pools? If so, what were your observations?
[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://www.livemom.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/Nicole-Basham-Sara-Marzani-Photography-livemom.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]A native Austinite and soccer-playing mom, Nicole uses her 8-year-old son as an excuse to rediscover her hometown through his eyes. In Thoreau’s words, her mission is to “suck out all the marrow of life”, or in her son’s words, to cultivate in him a love of “advenchers”.[/author_info] [/author]