Bike, paddle, climb and more at REI Fit City Campout

Participants in last year’s annual REI campout ride mountain bikes. This year, REI is teaming with the Lower Colorado River Authority and Fit City to put on the Fit City Campout on April 28-29. Photo courtesy REI

I prefer a sleeping bag in a tent to high threadcount sheets at a fancy hotel, especially when I can roll out of that tent the next morning, jump into a river or go for a run. And eat a yummy breakfast.

RELATED: Cap10K to hand out medals in 2018

That’s all on tap at the upcoming Fit City Campout, set for April 28-29 in Johnson City.

Fit City is partnering with REI and the Lower Colorado River Authority to put on the campout at Pedernales River Nature Park in Johnson City, a 220-acre piece of Hill Country heaven about an hour’s drive northwest of Austin.

We’re planning an entire day of fun, outdoorsy stuff (my fave!), from guided mountain bike rides, kayaking, rafting, standup paddleboarding and rock climbing to fishing, hiking and swimming. We’ll have star gazing Saturday night, and I’m going to lead a (non-competitive) 5K trail run Sunday morning, too.

RELATED: Fit City declares her Year of Adventure

Lots of local companies are getting involved, including Kammok, which will set up a hammock lounge in the trees near the river, and PackIt Gourmet, which will serve up some of its backpacker’s breakfasts on Sunday morning. Subaru is providing dinner on Saturday, and we’ll have live music and s’mores around the campfire, too.

The family friendly REI Fit City campout is set for April 28-29 at Pedernales River Nature Park in Johnson City. Photo courtesy REI

Never camped before? Not a problem. The event is designed to help you get comfortable pitching a tent, setting up camp and diving into some cool outdoor activities. My motto has long been “get your hair wet,” and by that I mean don’t sit on the sidelines and watch everyone else have fun. This is your time to have fun, too.

Gear for the activities will be provided; participants must bring their own tents, coolers and camping supplies, including sleeping bags, pads and pillows.

REI traditionally hosts a campout each spring. This marks the first time the Austin store has partnered with other companies to put it on.

“The primary goal has always been to give multi-faceted time outdoors and a good introduction to camping confidently, even for people who have not had previous experience,” says Ivey Kaiser, outdoor programs and outreach market coordinator at REI in Austin.

Pedernales River Nature Park is one of more than 40 parks that LCRA operates along more than 600 miles of the Colorado River between the Hill Country and Matagorda Bay.

“This is a rare chance to spend the night in a park that is normally open for day visitors only,” says Drew Pickle, manager of business and product development at LCRA. “I’m looking forward to paddling, campfire cooking, and listening to some live music at the campout with other folks who enjoy being in the outdoors.”

The campout kicks off at 10 a.m. Saturday April 28 and finishes at 10 a.m. Sunday. Cost is $79 per REI member ($89 for non-members). Kids 6 and under are free. Registration includes all activities, plus dinner provided by Subaru on Saturday and breakfast from PackIt Gourmet on Sunday. Sign up here.

“It is going to be a beautiful setting next to the Pedernales River, with lots of options for activities and relaxation as well. It’s a great opportunity to reconnect with family or have some downtime in a pristine Hill Country environment,” Kaiser said.

Can you swim today? Check website for status of Barton Creek Greenbelt swimming holes

The water is less than 2 feet deep at Gus Fruh Pool this week. Photo by Addie Broyles/American-Statesman

Thinking about heading to the Barton Creek Greenbelt, but unsure if recent rains have filled your favorite swimming hole?

A website created by a former University of Texas student provides current water depth and flow rate information for eight popular natural pools along the creek, where people flock each summer to cool their heels.

The webpage gives information about water depth and water flow rates for eight popular spots on the Barton Creek Greenbelt.

“People like that it’s a quick way to check if there’s enough water to swim,” says Serena Nguyen, who created the website as a final project for a coding bootcamp she took at the University of Texas.

Nguyen loves to hang out with friends on the Greenbelt, and came up with the project idea after hiking there one day, only to find out her favorite swim spot had gone dry. pulls data from the U.S. Geological Survey website, which is updated automatically every few minutes. You can check the status of eight popular swimming spots, including Gus Fruh, Twin Falls and Sculpture Falls.

Because the pools are irregularly shaped and there is not a USGS measuring station at each location, the measurements may not be exact. Still, they give hikers a general idea of swimming conditions.

The website, which went live in June 2017, also gives the temperature and current weather conditions.

A recent check showed that the water is 1.67 feet deep at Gus Fruh Pool on the Greenbelt, and flow is 1.84 cubic feet per second, less than ideal swimming conditions.

The website does more than let you know how your favorite swimming holes are faring.

It got Nguyen, 24, a job. Thanks to the bootcamp project, she now works as a web developer for Mutual Mobile, a downtown tech agency.

Pool at Bastrop State Park closes for major renovation

The pool at Bastrop State Park has closed for a major renovation. Photo courtesy Bastrop State Park


Don’t expect to dip a toe in the swimming pool at Bastrop State Park this summer.

The pool, which opened in 1937 and was last renovated 20 years ago, has closed for a major renovation and will remain shuttered all summer.

In recent seasons, officials had to make temporary fixes to leaks and broken mechanical equipment at the pool. Officials say a major remodel was needed to keep the facility operating. Crews will resurface all three sections of the pool and install new plumbing, pumps, filters and chemical systems.

SITE: Five refreshing swimming holes that aren’t Barton Creek

“We came to a point where a significant project had to be undertaken to keep the facility in operation,” Jamie Creacy, superintendent of Bastrop State Park, said in a press release. “We look forward to having swimmers back in an efficient and modernized pool facility that the community will be proud of.”

Teens take a dive in the pool at Bastrop State Park at the monthly Splash Bash on June 16, 2016. CONTRIBUTED

The rest of the park will be open as usual.

The Bastrop YMCA has managed the pool for the past six seasons, offering swim lessons, summer day camps and community events. With the pool closure, Bastrop YMCA members will get free day-use entry to Bastrop State Park from Memorial Day to Labor Day; free entry to all YMCA of Austin facilities and pools during that same time period; free entry into the East Metro park pool in Manor; and swim lessons at the Cub Scout Pool at the Lost Pines Boy Scout Camp during the month of July, according to a press release.

The Bastrop YMCA will also offer youth, family and health and wellness classes, including summer camp at Bastrop Church of Christ for children ages 5-12 and summer youth sports leagues in July and August. The club will also unveil a new Aire Fitness outdoor gym at Fisherman’s Park, with outdoor fitness classes that are free for YMCA members and available to the community for a per class fee.

“We understand the challenge of not having access to a pool during the summer, but we’re committed to providing Bastrop County residents a variety of fun, healthy and engaging experiences that will keep them active while still helping to beat the heat,” said Terry Moore, executive director of the Bastrop YMCA.

Prepping for a paddle trip on the Pecos River

Chris LeBlanc paddles the Colorado River between Little Webberville Park and Big Webberville Park on Easter Sunday 2018. Photo by Pam LeBlanc/American-Statesman


I discovered paddling last year.

Between March and October, I canoed or kayaked portions of six Texas waterways – the Colorado River, the Llano River, the San Marcos River, Mexican Creek, the Pedernales River and, my favorite of them all, the Devils River.

It’s spring, and we’ve (finally) gotten some rain, so I’ve been getting out again.

Last Monday, I settled my butt in a very tippy one-person race canoe for a test run on Lady Bird Lake, from Austin High School up to Red Bud Island and back. I didn’t fall in, so I consider the excursion more or less a success. But I also realized how difficult it is to steer a long, needle-nosed canoe, how little I know about proper paddling form, and how little my swimming fitness translates to paddling fitness. Plus, I’ve got a whole new vocabulary of jargon to learn.

RELATED: Dip a paddle in these Central Texas lakes and rivers

All that’s hard to swallow, because I want to learn how to go fast in a human-powered boat. And I’m not known for my patience.

On Easter Sunday, I took a quick run on the Colorado River downstream from Austin in my very own Alumacraft canoe, a big metal beast of a boat. It’s an easy, placid run, and with last week’s rainfall, conditions were perfect. (I’ve been hearing from paddling friends that the San Marcos River is flowing too high for beginners like me.)

My husband and I dropped our canoe at Little Webberville Park, then called Neal Cook at Cook’s Canoes, who for $20 helped us shuttle our truck down to Big Webberville Park, then drove us back to our boat.

RELATED: The Devil made me do it

We spent the time practicing our cadence. As driver, I sit in the back and call out “hut” whenever I want us to switch paddling sides. It’s a struggle, still, to direct the boat exactly where I want it to go, but I’m learning. (Just not fast enough.)

We pulled off in a little inlet to eat sandwiches. Later, we encountered a school of gar, which was pretty exciting. The long, torpedo-shaped fish look like miniature alligators, and it looked like they were coming to the surface to eat insects (although for all I know they were just peeking out of the water to see if the sun was shining.) I didn’t dangle my fingers in to find out.

I’m super excited to say that I’m gearing up for another big paddle adventure. In two weeks, I’m heading west again, this time to spend five days paddling the Pecos River from Pandale down to the High Bridge near Comstock.

Stay tuned for a full report on that one…