The Austin Chronicle

Multimedia Plunge

Barton Springs to Life on New CD-ROM

By Robert Bryce, December 5, 1997, News

How do you distill the essence of a unique place into a photograph, book, or essay? And of all the places on earth, what could be harder to capture than Barton Springs? For people interested in Austin's most famous swimming spot, only a jump into the pool itself could rival the tsunami of information presented in a new CD-ROM called Barton Springs Interactive. Published by the Texas Environmental Center, the CD contains several hundred photos, voice recordings by Robert Redford and Bill Moyers, video clips of swimmers and scientists, historical information, games, and a wide-ranging assortment of scientific information.

The CD-ROM is the culmination of four years of work by Marshall Frech, the director of the Texas Environmental Center. He had been working on it ever since the publication of Barton Springs Eternal, a collection of essays and photographs which he co-authored with Turk Pipkin. Barton Springs Eternal was the first book designed to savor the significance of Barton Springs. The CD complements it, but it also takes a quantum leap past it. Containing more than 400 megabytes of information, the CD is the most complete snapshot of Barton Springs ever assembled. (That said, here's a disclaimer: One of my photographs is on the CD; none of the photographers were paid.)

The CD is divided into four sections: Day in the Life, Games, Aqua Tour, and History. Each of these is divided into subsections. For instance, the History section includes details about the flour mill that used to be located on the downstream end of the pool. Games has a section describing the animals that frequent Barton Creek. The Aqua Tour section has sections on urbanization and water quality monitoring.

Perhaps the most visually interesting part of the CD is the Day in the Life section, which contains hundreds of photographs and numerous short film clips, including interviews with various figures such as VeLann Howell, the first female lifeguard at Barton Springs, who was hired in 1979. Perhaps the funniest segment is an interview with Nick Alvarado, the chunky Barton Springs regular who has won the Barton Springs Diving Championship. Alvarado keeps a perfect poker face while discussing his ambitions to use the Barton Springs experience as "a stepping stone to the Olympics... 2000 is a little close and I'm getting older," admits Alvarado, "but like some of the greats like [George] Foreman in boxing, I'm thinking I can make a name for myself in heavyweight diving." He goes on to explain that "the small guys do a really nice job, very pretty, but they don't have the raw aggressive power that heavyweight diving has."

The CD-ROM includes a wealth of visual material and contains fabulous photos by Taylor Johnson, Will Van Overbeek, and Martha Grenon. It also has significant omissions and a couple of technical glitches. It also almost completely ignores the pool's recent political history. For instance, the June 7, 1990 hearing at the Austin City Council Chambers is not mentioned. Nor is the August 1992 vote by Austin citizens to approve the Save Our Springs Ordinance. Nor the fact that the Barton Springs Salamander, which is endemic to the springs, was recently added to the Endangered Species List after a five-year battle by Austin environmentalists to get the animal on the list.

There are also a few technical slip-ups. For instance, the Aqua Tour section includes a glossary of terms. But the margins on the text are placed too closely together, which means the right hand margin cuts off several letters, making reading difficult. This glitch recurs in other text sections, including the one written by Frech about the rocksitters, J. Frank Dobie, Walter Prescott Webb, and Roy Bedichek.

Those complaints aside, this CD is a major achievement. Barton Springs Interactive will be of interest to everyone who enjoys Barton Springs or Creek. The CD has already been distributed to dozens of area schools. Barnes & Noble has distributed copies to every school in the Eanes and Austin school districts. The Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District bought copies for schools in the Hays Consolidated School District, and Samsung bought copies for schools in Round Rock and Manor.

The CD costs $19.95, with half of the profits from the project being donated to the Barton Springs Education Center, which is now being constructed at the bathhouse in Zilker Park next to Barton Springs Pool. It is available at Book People, Barnes & Noble, Whole Earth Provision Co., and the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce. It can also be ordered from the Save Our Springs Alliance, at 477-2320.

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