Learn about Texas’ paddling trails at this book signing with Bob Spain

Bob Spain a canoe along the Luling Zedler Mill Paddling Trail, a 6-mile stretch of the San Marcos River from the U.S. Hwy 90 crossing to the Zedler Mill. File photo by Kelly West/ AMERICAN-STATESMAN


It’s tougher than you think to paddle a canoe in a straight line.

I know, because I’ve been trying to perfect the skill (sporadically) for a few months now, with the help of a few friends who are experts. Among them? Bob Spain, a local paddler and paddling instructor who will unveil his new book, “Bob Spain’s Canoeing Guide and Favorite Texas Paddling Trails” (Texas A&M University Press, $26.95) at an event at REI’s downtown location this Thursday.

The book, oriented toward recreational paddlers like me and thoughtfully printed on waterproof paper in case you and the book take an unexpected dip, includes a quick history of paddling and its importance in the fur trade, plus information about different types of boats, tips on how to paddle and illustrations of different strokes. A good chunk is devoted to paddling trails around the state, and it wraps up with a few words on conservation and environmental threats to our rivers and streams.

Of particular interest to me? A section on paddling in a straight line, something Bob’s wife, Joy Emshoff, has been working on with me.

“The main emphasis was to let people know about the paddle trails, but you really need to know more about canoeing before you go out there,” Spain says.

Spain, a certified canoeing instructor, started paddling when he came to Austin around 1980. He says he loves the quiet, stealthy ride a canoe provides, which lets him observe wildlife he otherwise wouldn’t get to see.

“It’s just a way of life to me,” he says.

Spain will speak at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the Austin Downtown REI, 601 North Lamar Boulevard. Registration is limited. At 7 p.m., he will sign copies of the book. Registration is not required for the signing and anyone may attend. Both events are free.

Huge new surf park near Waco opens to public Saturday

Morgan Faulkner rides a wave at the new BSR Surf Resort near Waco. The park opens to the public on Saturday. Photo courtesy Rob Henson

A new surf park that delivers customizable waves up to 8 feet tall opens to the public near Waco on Saturday.

BSR Surf Resort, the latest expansion of the BSR Cable Park northeast of Waco, uses an air-powered system to mimic ocean waves whose strength and timing can be adjusted.

Hawaiian pro surfer Seth Moniz executes the first ever back flip in a man-made wave pool at the new BSR Surf Resort near Waco last week. Photo courtesy Rob Henson

It becomes the second major surf park in Central Texas, and just the third in the country, along with NLand Surf Park, built east of Austin by Coors beer scion Doug Coors, and pro surfer Kelly Slater’s Surf Ranch in California, which hosted a World Surf League competition last week.

The Waco park uses different wave-making technology than NLand Surf Park, which opened in October 2016.

RELATED: At NLand Surf Park, catch a perfect wave every time

At BSR Surf Resort, waves roll out in sets of three, with each wave spaced about 5 seconds apart and a new trio every 45 seconds. At NLand Surf Park, a wave-making “foil” delivers a single wave every 2 minutes. The waves at BSR last just 12 to 14 seconds, though, less than the waves at NLand.

Morgan Faulkner rides a wave at the new BSR Surf Resort. Photo courtesy Rob Henson

Mike Klein, a member of the Austin Surf Club who moved to Austin from Newport Beach, California, spent Thursday and Friday surfing at the new park as part of a sneak preview for season pass holders.

“This wave’s got way more power, and it’s more like an ocean wave in terms of catching it and how it acts,” Klein said. “It’s the most natural artificial wave that’s been built.”

RELATED: Is Austin the land-locked surf capital of the world?

The new park uses wave-making technology by California-based American Wave Machines.

“It can change sequence, power and timing to create any type of wave you can imagine,” Klein said. “At the other pools, it’s the same wave over and over again.”

Morgan Faulkner peeks out of wave at BSR Surf Resort. Photo courtesy Rob Henson

BSR Surf Resort will offer beginner, intermediate and advanced waves, but caters to more advanced surfers.

“It’s night and day for surfing, and it’s very challenging even for myself,” Klein said. “It’s something like you’d find in Hawaii – a very powerful wave not for the average surfer.”

“Part of the cool thing about surfing is the unpredictability, and how a surfer adapts and makes off-the-hip decisions. This feels more like an ocean setting, with a sandy beach that wraps around the outside, a swim-up pool and bar, and they’re building a huge surf shop,” Klein said.

RELATED: Meet the people behind Austin’s expanding waves

BSR Surf Resort is the newest attraction at a complex northeast of Waco that also includes a wakeboard cable park, a huge waterslide called the Royal Flush, and what’s billed as the world’s longest lazy river for tubing.

BSR Surf Resort is part of BSR Cable Park, which includes a lazy river, a huge water slide and a cable wakeboard facility. Photo courtesy Mike Klein

Barefoot Ski Ranch Cable Park and Resort is located at 5347 Old Mexia Road near Waco. Park hours are 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily. Surfing costs $60 an one hour, an includes a surfboard. Private and group lessons are available. For more information or to book a session call (254) 227-6388 or go to http://www.bsrcablepark.com.

Balmorhea Pool closed indefinitely because of structural damage

Swimmers enjoy the huge spring-fed pool at Balmorhea State Park in West Texas. AMERICAN-STATESMAN file

The spring-fed pool at Balmorhea State Park in West Texas closed indefinitely this week because of structural failure.

Crews discovered damage to the concrete apron beneath the diving board, which stabilizes the walls of the pool, during an annual draining and cleaning of the 1.3-acre, V-shaped oasis this week, officials said. The pool, located about 400 miles west of Austin, is a popular stop for visitors heading to the Big Bend region.

This photo shows damage to the concrete apron near the diving board at Balmorhea Pool. Contributed by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department

Officials are evaluating damage and have not set a date for reopening. The closure comes just as temperatures are heating up and the park’s busy season is about to begin.

“A large section of concrete collapsed in the wall under the high diving board and the remainder of the concrete is in danger of collapsing as well,” said Carolyn Rose, superintendent of the park. “The concrete will need to be removed in order to assess the integrity of the deck that supports the diving board. Once that assessment is made, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department will proceed with any needed repairs.”

The site has long attracted people. Native Americans, Spanish explorers and U.S. soldiers watered up at San Solomon Springs, which pumps out about 15.5 million gallons of water a day, long before the Civilian Conservation Corps turned the desert wetland into a pool in the 1930s. Private concessionaires operated the park until the 1960s, when the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department took it over.

Balmorhea State Park in West Texas on a hot July day. American-Statesman file

More than 153,000 people visited the park between Sept. 1, 2016, and Sept. 1, 2017. On hot summer weekends, the park fills to capacity by noon and cars are turned away.

The enormous pool is 25 feet deep in places, with a natural bottom. Swimming there feels like gliding through a giant aquarium populated by fish of all sizes. It holds 3.5 million gallons of water, and water temperatures hover between 72 and 76 degrees year-round.

The pool has environmental significance, too. It’s home to two small, endangered desert fish – the Pecos gambusia and the Comanche Springs pupfish. Habitats have been created outside of the pool for the protection of the fish and other invertebrates, and officials say they are working to protect the species during the closure.

RELATED: Take a dip in a desert oasis at Balmorhea Pool

The 45-acre desert park’s day use and picnic area will remain open while the pool is closed. The park’s retro, adobe-style 18-unit motor court closed early this year for renovations and should reopen in 2019.

“Balmorhea State Park is a treasured oasis in West Texas that has provided unique recreational opportunities for generations of Texans,” Brent Leisure, director of Texas State Parks, said in a news release. “Our staff is working diligently to address the situation and make sure the pool is safe for the visitors and the aquatic life in habitats associated with the San Solomon Springs.”

For more information about the park, call 432-375-2370.

Five upcoming events with Fit City’s stamp of approval

The Hyatt Regency Austin moves its free Pints ‘n Poses yoga class to the rooftop on Monday. Photo courtesy Hyatt Regency Austin

Looking for sweat-inducing outdoor action? Check out these upcoming events, which get the Fit City stamp of approval:

  • Free yoga – outdoors, with fabulous views and a complimentary beer! The Hyatt Regency Austin is moving it’s free Pints & Poses class to the top floor of the hotel’s parking garage this month. Ferny Barcelo and Zuzu Perkal will lead the relaxing, smooth flow yoga class, which starts at 6:30 p.m. May 14 at the hotel, 208 Barton Springs Road. Bring your own mat. For more information go here.
Shawneen Pazienza, center, laughs with other league members during warm-ups in January 2018. Julia Robinson for American-Statesman
  • How about flinging axes for a good cause? Urban Axes, 812 Airport Boulevard, will host a Ladyblades fundraiser in partnership with SAFE Austin from 6:30-10 p.m. May 15. Tournament entry is $40, or pay $20 just to watch it all go down. Tickets include wine, beer and food from Laurent Perrier, Austin Eastciders and La Barbeque. For tickets, go here.
  • Drink beer and relax with representatives from all kinds of outdoor brands at Outdoor Project’s summer block party from 2-10 p.m. May 19 at Hops & Grain, 507 Calles Street. The all-day party will feature beer, live music, local food carts and sponsorship from Keen Footwear, Kammok, Gossamer Gear, Blipic, Patagonia, Kind Bars, Crux Climbing Center and more. The event is a fund-raiser for Explore Austin, a local non-profit organization that works to help underserved youth through leadership, mentoring and outdoor adventure. Old Salt Union and Josh Klaus Music will perform starting at 6:30 p.m. For more information go here. 
  • Try out cool outdoor activities like fishing and archery, learn about the state’s 73 paddling trails, and study native fish at the free Outdoor Adventures Area at Jones Brothers Park on Lake Travis in Jonestown from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. May 19-20. Fisheries biologists, state park rangers, outdoor educators and game wardens will answer questions and provide demonstrations. The event is held in conjunction with Toyota Bassmaster Texas Fest, a tournament held May 17-20 at Lake Travis. For more information go here.
An athlete scrambles under barbed wire during a Spartan Race. Photo courtesy Spartan
  • Scramble underneath barbed wire, slosh through mud and leap over flames during the Spartan races May 19-20 at Reveille Peak Ranch, 105 County Road 114 in Burnet. Nearly 10,000 participants of all ages and skill levels are expected for the 3- to 5-mile “Spartan Sprint” and 8- to 10-mile “Spartan Super” courses. The weekend also features a 12-hour Hurricane Heat team event and a kids race course for ages 4-13. For more information go here.
A competitor sloshes through mud at a Spartan race. Photo courtesy Spartan

Butler Trail detour begins as crews install mini-boardwalk

Users of the Butler Hike and Bike Trail navigate the section of trail beneath the Ann Richards Congress Avenue Bridge in March 2018. Starting Wednesday, the trail will be detoured up to Congress Avenue as crews install a new mini boardwalk. AMANDA VOISARD / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

A section of the Butler Hike and Bike Trail beneath the north end of the Ann Richards Congress Avenue Bridge will close Wednesday for 12 days while crews demolish the old wooden bridge and install a new 14-foot-wide pathway.

Trail users can follow a detour up to Congress Avenue and around the construction during the closure. The trail, part of the 10-mile loop around Lady Bird Lake, will reopen Monday, May 21, according to a press release from The Trail Foundation.

RELATED: Construction begins on mini boardwalk beneath Congress Avenue Bridge

Construction began in March week to replace the narrow, more than 40-year-old existing structure with a sleek 172-foot “mini-boardwalk” that will take users out over the water. The privately funded project also includes a viewing platform where people can rest, watch the bats emerge during summer months or just take in the sights.

The new concrete and steel bridge is designed improve safety at a dangerous bottleneck on the trail, according to The Trail Foundation official.

RELATED: What’s next for the hike-and-bike trail? Leaders unveil 15 projects

Construction began in March on the new stretch of trail. Photo by Pam LeBlanc/American-Statesman

Robert F. Smith, 55, founder of Austin-based private equity firm Vista Equity Partners, donated $1.25 million to kick-start the $2.5-million project. The rest of the project’s money, which has already been raised, comes from private donations, according to Trail Foundation officials.

RELATED: Boardwalk belts play homage to classic Texas songs

The Trail Foundation is collaborating with the Austin Parks and Recreation Department on the project. Barring any construction delays, the new bridge under Congress Avenue should open by June, Anderson said.


Corrects to indicate Robert Smith is founder of Vista Equity Partners.

People loved Chihuahuan Desert Bike Fest so much organizers cancelled it

Did you make it out to Big Bend for the 2018 Chihuahuan Desert Bike Fest? Hopefully so, because this year’s event drew so many bicyclists that organizers have decided to cancel next year’s event.

A notice sent to past attendees from Desert Sports in Terlingua said this: “Alas, more riders attended then our allotted cap of 500. Area resources, from venues to delicate trail environments to emergency services, were overwhelmed by the attendance.”

RELATED: For epic mountain bike riding, head to Big Bend Ranch State Park

The festival first took place in 2011, and was designed to encourage cyclists to enjoy the array of trails at Big Bend Ranch State Park. It also included a few guided rides behind the Lajitas Resort and in Big Bend National Park.

Heidi Armstrong and Dan Opdyke ride their bikes at Big Bend National Park during Chihuahuan Desert Bike Fest in February 2018. Photo by Pam LeBlanc/American-Statesman


“We have been successful beyond our wildest hopes and dreams,” the notice said, adding that cyclists are still encouraged to visit the area to ride between October and April – just not all on one weekend.
“The Big Bend Trails Alliance will continue to maintain, build and advocate our beloved trails through your generous donations,” the letter said.

I’ve been attending the festival since it began, and spent a day earlier this year at the event, pedaling some of my favorite bike trails in the state. I’ve launched myself into more than one cactus there, and enjoyed every moment.

The perfect 21-mile cycling route starts in Willow City

Chris and Pam LeBlanc pedaled the Willow City Loop this weekend.


Every year while the wildflowers are blooming, I load up my bicycle and head to the Hill Country to pedal the Willow City Loop.

The hilly circuit makes me whimper a little – especially that giant hill about 3 miles from the finish, which turns my quads to jelly – but the reward comes in the form of classic Texas vistas of blue, yellow and red blooms, limestone outcroppings and, if you’re lucky, a flowing creek or two.

RELATED: Ten underwater photos to make you feel better

This year, I missed the bluebonnets, which peaked about three weeks ago. That turned out OK, though, because instead of a steady stream of motorcycles and slow-moving cars, I encountered hardly any traffic. Plus, I saw something new – fields of blooming cactus with fuschia and yellow flowers.


To do the ride, park your car on the side of the road in Willow City, which consists of a bar called Harry’s, a couple of houses, a historic school, a single intersection and bunch of goats.

For best results, bike the loop in clockwise direction, heading west first until you reach Texas 16. Turn right on Texas 16 and head north along this busy two-lane highway. (This is my least favorite part.) Keep your eyes open — you’ll get a quick glimpse of Enchanted Rock to the left just before you start the big downhill glide. A few miles after you reach the bottom, you’ll see an official highway sign directing you to the Willow City Loop on the right.

The land along the road is private, and vehicles aren’t supposed to stop along the right-of-way. (They do anyway.)

You’ll cross lots of cattle guards (caution!) and a few small creeks, weave alongside some craggy boulders, and spy fields of flowers and cactus. We also spotted a wild turkey, a tortoise meandering down the road, a bunch of cattle and a gray fox. Near the end, take note of the long stretch of fence, with cowboy boots capping each post.

Cowboy boots top fenceposts alongside one property on the Willow City Loop. Pam LeBlanc/American-Statesman

Most of the motorized traffic drives the loop in the opposite direction, so you’ll see cars coming at you. About 3 miles from the finish, you’ll see an imposing ridge rising in front of you. Take a big gulp of air and prepare to mash your pedals.

We call it the hill that keeps on giving. The first part is steepest, with a break followed by another moderately steep stretch. Even when you think you’re done, the gradual incline continues all the way to Willow City.

Best part of this 5K? The food stops along the way!

At the Fit Foodie 5K, runners stop at tasting stations along the running route, and enjoy more food at a finish line festival. Photo by Vladamir Bukalo


The best most runners get on a race course is sports drink, but an upcoming race will feature far more filling fare.

The Cooking Light & Health Fit Foodie Festival & 5K doles out nibbles at tasting stations along the race course, and wraps up with a food and fitness festival (plus a beer garden, workout classes and cooking demonstrations) at the finish line.

The event includes cooking demos, mini fitness workouts and food. Vladamir Bukalo

The event is set for June 23 at Mueller Lake Park, 4550 Mueller Boulevard, and benefits No Kid Hungry. Race start is 8 a.m. at the Browning Hangar.

Even better? Bib pickup doubles as a happy hour celebration the night before the run. Goody bags feature gifts from health and wellness brands.

The event will take place at Mueller Lake Park in Austin on June 23. Game Face Media

Registration costs $35 per person and increases on May 18. For more information or to sign up, go here.

New section of Shoal Creek Hike-and-Bike Trail opens near downtown

Crews this week opened a new stretch of the Shoal Creek Trail near Fifth Street in downtown Austin. Photo courtesy Austin Public Works Department

A section of the Shoal Creek hike-and-bike trail near downtown that has been closed for nearly three years reopened this week.

The $4.6-million Shoal Creek Gap Project closed a missing link in the route between the bank on the west side of Shoal Creek and the existing trail. The project included relocation of water and wastewater lines, bank stabilization, trail lighting and a shared use bridge spanning the creek at Fourth Street and Rio Grande Street.

Since the project began in July 2015, trail users had to detour onto surface streets to access the Lance Armstrong Bikeway. Ride the stretch now and you’ll notice the smooth new sidewalk, retaining walls, sod and ornamental railings.

This photo shows the trail before the work began. Photo courtesy Public Works Department

“Flood events and heavy rains really impacted us,” said project manager Darryl Haba with the Public Works Department. “We did, however, stay under budget.”

The project was finished within budget but was nine months behind schedule due to heavy rains and flooding, Haba said.

Trail lighting illuminates the new route at night. Photos courtesy Austin Public Works Deparrtment

Welcome to May, when you get free breakfast tacos for biking to work

Daniel Staub stops by a free breakfast station at Whole Foods in this file photo. Photo by Deborah Cannon/American-Statesman


Welcome to National Bike Month, when we cyclists gloat non-stop about how pedaling to work beats sitting in traffic in a car.

But seriously. It does.

I started riding a bicycle to work as a result of a commuter challenge hosted by the city 13 or 14 years ago. I got caught up in the mania, and somehow by trying to log more bicycle trips than other teams, it became a habit.

RELATED: Bicycles get green light at COTA on Tuesday nights

These days, I ride my bike to work an average of four times a week. I love it. The 14-mile round trip gives me some bonus exercise, keeps one more car off the road and it helps me avoid the distress of getting caught in gridlock traffic. Plus, I like to think it keeps my legs cute.

Pam Leblanc leaves her home to ride to a bus stop on June 23, 2014. DEBORAH CANNON / AMERICAN-STATESMAN


Every May, cities around the country celebrate National Bike Month. Here in Austin, the highlight of the month comes on Bike to Work Day, set this year for May 18. And the best part of that day? Free breakfast for bike commuters at stations all over the city.

RELATED: Tired of Barton Creek? Try the bike trails at Slaughter Creek instead

Bike Austin has partnered with more than two dozen businesses that will serve up free coffee, water and breakfast treats like tacos and donuts during the morning commute. The fueling stations will be open from 6:30-9 a.m.

Here’s a handy (and evolving) list:

• Alliance Transportation Group

• Austin Beerworks

• Austin Habitat for Humanity

• B-Cycle

• Bennu Coffee

• Bouldin Creek Cafe

• C3 Presents

• City Hall

• Cosmic Coffee + Beer Garden

• Crux Climbing Center

• Cuvee Coffee Bar

• Dia’s Market

• Easy Rider Pedicab

• fibercove

• Ghisallo

• Greater Goods Coffee Roasters

• Houndstooth Coffee


• Monkey Wrench Bicycles

• Mueller Neighborhood Association

• Orange Coworking

• Regions Bank

• Sayers Advisors

• Spokesman

• The Austin Coffee Trailer

• The Paramount Theatre

• Townlake YMCA

• Vital Farms

• Wells Branch Speedy Stop

• Wheatsville Food Co-op

TownLake YMCA will offer free passes and shower use, and C3 Presents will donate a pair of 2018 ACL Music Festival tickets to a lucky winner.

The day wraps up with a party from 5-7 p.m. at Cheer Up Charlies, 900 Red River Street. Don’t forget to pick up a passport at the first fueling station you visit. You’ll get one entry into the evening’s door prize drawing for each stamp you collect.

For more information go here.