WIMBERLEY Generations of sweltering Texans have cooled their heels in the Hill Country's quintessential chill spot, the green, cypress-shaded oasis known as the Blue Hole.
Now they can go for a hike, kick a soccer ball or scramble up an uprooted cedar tree that doubles as a jungle gym there. too.
On May 19, the City of Wimberley will unveil the new and improved Blue Hole Regional Park, complete with soccer fields, a playscape, a sand volleyball court, amphitheater, community pavilion, basketball court and hiking trails.
The recreational facilities, the product of the second phase of improvements on the 126-acre grounds, occupy what was once an old sweet potato field, up the hill and out of sight of the peaceful swimming hole.
The swimming hole and surrounding grounds got a renovation as the first phase of the project, which was finished last spring.
Visitors now pay their entry fees in an office made of recycled and native materials, change in a new dressing room, walk down a stone path that blends into the surroundings, pad across a lush expanse of grass and lunch on picnic tables made of slabs of limestone. They also walk over a small dock instead of a strip of mucky carpet to reach the rope swing that hangs from a fat, centuries-old cypress tree.
The City of Wimberley acquired the Blue Hole site, northeast of Wimberley Square, from a private owner in 2005, after contractors sought to buy and develop the land. The purchase of Blue Hole and the surrounding acreage became a rallying point for the young city, incorporated in 2000.
The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center created a master plan for the property, and the city hired Design Workshop to design the park.
Today, rock outcroppings lead people to the water's edge so they don't damage the roots of the cypress trees or trample plants. Educational signage reminds visitors of the importance of protecting the springs and aquifer that feed the pool. Part of the grassy expanse next to the swimming hole and below a bluff has been left natural, too.
"We wanted to preserve the Blue Hole and protect it, but not change it very much," said Stephen Klepfer, executive director of the Friends of the Blue Hole, which spearheaded the improvements.
Acquisition of the land and the first two phases of improvements cost about $7.5 million, raised through a combination of grants, private donations and county bonds.
"The vision we had of being able to preserve and protect it pales in comparison to what we ended up being able to do," Klepfer said.
Visitors can now walk a rustic trail from the swimming hole up to the recreation area, where the more developed amenities were built. An overlook along the way gives hikers a glimpse of the action down by the swimming hole, and a small amphitheater tucked in the woods provides space for small performances.
"We had both preservation and recreational needs, and we had to blend both of those into this 126 acres," Klepfer said.
A dozen hardwood trees were removed during construction, but plans call for planting 660 replacement trees. Some of the plantings have been postponed because of the drought.
The final phase of improvements will include tennis courts and about a dozen primitive camping spots at the park.
A fundraising concert featuring Monte Montgomery, Susan Gibson and Slaid Cleves is scheduled for 3 p.m. June 9.
Contact Pam LeBlanc at email@example.com; 445-3994 Twitter: @fitcityleblanc