Starting May 15, visitors to Hamilton Pool will have to make a reservation ahead of time and pay an increased fee.
The Travis County commissioners on Tuesday unanimously adopted the changes, which were spurred by a recent surge in interest in the iconic natural swimming hole west of Austin that has led to about 70 percent of people being turned away on busy summer days and has caused traffic nightmares on Ranch Road 12.
“Over the last few years, Hamilton Pool Preserve has gotten increased visitation at an exponential rate,” said Dan Perry, the western district manager for the county’s parks system. “If you look on Google for anything about ‘10 best swimming pools in the U.S.,’ Hamilton Pool comes up.”
The changes will apply only during the peak season, from May to the end of September. The cost of attendances will go from $15 per vehicle to $26 thanks to a new $10 online reservation fee and a $1 credit card processing fee.
The original $15 per vehicle recreation fee will still apply and it will be the only charge during non-peak months. Discounts for seniors and those with seasonal passes for public parks will still be honored year-round. If the preserve is closed for bad weather or other reasons, people who had reservations that day will be able to reschedule without paying more.
Visitors will be able to make reservations for one of two daily sessions: 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. The preserve will be closed for the hour in between the sessions.
The changes are expected to bring more than $127,000 to county coffers and lead to a 15 to 20 percent decrease in the number of people who visit the pool each year, according to estimates by county staff.
There are 75 parking spots at the Hamilton Pool Preserve. If an average of three people come in each car for the two daily sessions, then about 450 will be able to visit the pool each day during the summer.
The Hays County-owned Jacob’s Well swimming hole near Wimberley adopted a similar reservation system in 2015.
Travis County Commissioner Gerald Daugherty, whose precinct includes Hamilton Pool, said the transition to a reservation system will be difficult, especially for the many out-of-town visitors.
“We realistically know that 70 percent, I’m sure, are going to go, ‘Huh? We needed to do what?’” said Daugherty, who asked county staff to track why people who show up without reservations didn’t get the message. “I don’t know how we deal with this thing other than, after a couple of years, people do figure out that if you don’t have a reservation, you’re not going to get in.”
Perry pointed out that the reaction to the new system can’t be much worse than frustrations with the current situation, with so many visitors getting turned away after making the drive to western Travis County. Using reservations, he said, could at least make it better for people who live near the pool.
The long line of cars outside the preserve, he said, is “interfering with not only road traffic but the local neighborhoods, and it’s really not a good, friendly way to operate a park.”