Students get immersive learning experience at ‘Barton Springs University’

Students spend a day learning at Barton Springs Pool (KXAN Photo)
Students spend a day learning at Barton Springs Pool (KXAN Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — High school and college students had the unique opportunity to learn more about the endangered Barton Springs salamanders and the environment they live in during an annual event called “Barton Springs University.”

Pat Brodnax is the managing director of Save Our Springs Alliance. “We’re trying to educate a lot of newcomers and our youth, high schoolers, college students, to know more about it and therefore want to be better stewards of it,” she said.

Environmental experts stress that the quality of the water these salamanders thrive in directly impacts the water we get to drink and enjoy — causing these salamanders to basically serve as indicators on the status of Barton Springs and the Edwards Aquifer.

“Protecting the salamanders protects water supply for all of us,” says Bill Bunch, the executive director of Save Our Springs Alliance. “I think they’re very secretive and they’re small so there’s often not a good chance to see them and with U.S. Fish and Wildlife here with the proper permitting to actually see them, it’s an exciting thing.”

Growing up in the West Lake Hills area, senior Kiera Quinn had learned about the Barton Springs salamanders in school her whole life, and how they are endangered, but not much else. “They’re in these pools. Can you see them? No. They’re tiny. So it’s really cool that they do this thing where you can come and talk to people who know a lot about the subject,” Quinn tells KXAN.

Since these salamanders depend on fresh, clean and cold constant spring flows, Bunch worries how our rapid population growth is threatening their survival. “With more growth comes more pavement, more pollution, more pumping pressures,” says Bunch. “So we’re trying very hard to address all of those issues, including buying more watershed protection lands for parks and preserves so that it’s forever protected and can feed fresh rainfall into the aquifer and into the springs.”

“It was really fascinating to hear,” Quinn said. “There’s still so much we don’t know of the ground below our feet. So that was really neat. This has been a cool day.”

Organizers say they’d like to eventually turn Barton Springs University into a year round event, rather than just one day a year, to reach more students and more of the public.

To find out more on Barton Springs University, visit their website. 

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