All Parks

How do I make a reservation for a facility?

To make a facility reservation, check out our reservation portal. To check availability, enter the date, complex and facility. If a facility is available, create an account in the top right of the page and submit a request. If you need assistance, please contact the Park's Main Office at 512-854-PARK, Monday-Friday from 8:30 am - 4:00 pm.

Can I use a shelter if no one has reserved it?

If it's not reserved, open air shelters are available on a first come, first served basis. Electricity and water are not available. The area should be left as found.

If I want to primitive camp and the booth is closed, can I proceed to a site that’s available?

Yes, you can camp at an open site at Sandy Creek Park or Pace Bend Park. Staff or Park Police will monitor the parks and issue a Patrol Notice with instructions on payment.

Who do I call if the gates are closed and my vehicle is locked in the park?

After Park's Main Office hours, please contact Travis County Sheriff’s Office non-emergency number at 512-974-0845 (then select option 3). During Park's Main Office hours (Monday – Friday from 8:30 am - 4:00 pm), please contact the Park's Main Office at 512-854-PARK.

Which Lake Travis boat ramps are open?

Boat ramp information can be found on the news page and www.lcra.org.

Where can I find information regarding Lake Travis water temperature, swimming and lake conditions?

Lake Travis water condition information can be found at www.lcra.org.

Does Travis County rent boats, sailboats or jet skis?

No, but there are several businesses on the lake that have rentals.

Do I need a reservation for the Monthly Bird Walks at Milton Reimers Ranch Park?

No. Guided tours are October through April, Saturdays at 10:00 am (weather permitting) and are limited to the first 30 participants.

When do White Bass run at Reimers Ranch?

The season starts in February and runs through April, but the Pedernales River levels affect the fishing conditions.

When are the ponds at East Metro stocked?

The fish-stocking plan consists of bi-weekly stockings of channel catfish or rainbow trout. Channel catfish, 12 inches, are stocked April through November. Rainbow trout, 8-12 inches, are stocked December through March.

Does Travis County offer military discounts to active members?

No, but we do offer a disabled veterans annual pass which gives U.S. Veterans with 60% service related disability entrance to all of our parks. The pass can be obstained at any park entry booth.

Which Travis County Park is handicap accessible?

Our goal is to make sure people with disabilities can take full advantage of Travis County Parks and park facilities. We will coordinate with individuals and groups to accommodate persons with special needs. If you have accessibility questions, please contact the Park's Main Office at 512-854-PARK.

Are fireworks allowed at Travis County Parks?

Fireworks are prohibited in all Travis County Parks. Please read our complete list of rules.

Where and how can I pay for a patrol notice I received?

You can pay at the booth as you exit the park or you can mail a check or money order payable to:

Travis County Parks
PO Box 1748
Austin, TX 78767

Include the patrol notice with payment.

If you have questions regarding the patrol notice, contact the Park's Main Office at 512-854-PARK, Monday-Friday from 8:30 am - 4:00 pm.

Are drones allowed in Travis County Parks?

Travis County Parks allows the use of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (drones) under the following conditions:

  • The operator has complied with all Federal Aviation Administration policies and rules regarding the use of drones (https://www.faa.gov/uas/getting_started/registration/ ), especially recognizing the fact that many Travis County parks are within Prohibited Airspace near airports,
  • The drone does not interfere with other park visitors' enjoyment of the area,
  • The drone is operated in a safe and discrete manner so as to not pose a safety or security threat,
  • Drones are not allowed at Hamilton Pool Preserve.

Do I have to keep my pet on a leash?

Pets are welcome at most of our parks and are required to be kept on leash at all times. Pets must be kept under the owner's direct control and secured at all times by a leash not to exceed six feet in length, and shall not be left unattended or constitute a nuisance. Noisy, vicious, or dangerous animals are not permitted, as determined on site by park staff.

Exception: Pets are not allowed in Hamilton Pool Preserve, Pogue Springs Preserve, Wild Basin Preserve, Hippie Hollow Park, Tom Hughes Park, or on the Point at Bob Wentz Park.

Is my service animal allowed in the parks?

Pets are welcome at most of our parks. However, they are not allowed in Hamilton Pool Preserve, Pogue Springs Preserve, Wild Basin Preserve, Hippie Hollow Park, Tom Hughes Park, or on the Point at Bob Wentz Park. Service animals are allowed in these parks but must be recognized as a service animal under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

A service animal is specifically a dog or miniature horse that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for a person with a disability. Animals whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals under the ADA. Under the ADA, service animals must be harnessed, leashed, or tethered, unless these devices interfere with the service animal’s work or the individual’s disability prevents using these devices. In that case, the individual must maintain control of the animal through voice, signal, or other effective controls.

Hamilton Pool Preserve

Isn't Hamilton Pool just a swimming hole?

Hamilton Pool Preserve is much more than a beautiful place to swim. It is a nature preserve in the federal Balcones Canyonlands Conservation Plan. It is habitat for a wide variety of plants and animals, including the federally endangered Golden-cheeked Warbler. Our mission includes protecting the fragile canyon so that future generations may enjoy it, as well as providing a place to take a swim in a natural setting. Enjoying the natural beauty of the canyon is the most common activity. Some people are surprised to hear that our busiest days occur when swimming is not allowed.

When do I need a reservation to visit?

We require all visitors to have reservations every day from March 1 - October 31. We require reservations on Saturdays, Sundays, and official Travis County holidays from November through February. The calendar shown in the reservation system will show you which dates require reservations.

Why do we have a reservation system?

Hamilton Pool Preserve has become extremely popular in the last decade. The small canyon can accommodate only a limited number of people. The number of people trying to visit the preserve on a typical warm weather day greatly exceeds the number of people that are allowed to enter. As a result, most people are turned away after making a long drive to the preserve. The reservation system prevents people from making futile drives to the preserve when there is no room for them.

If I park outside the preserve property can I just walk in?

No. The reason we restrict the number of visitors who can be in the preserve is that the canyon can accommodate only a limited number of people. Parking outside the preserve property does not address the overcrowding issue inside the canyon. Furthermore, Hamilton Pool Road is a narrow road with little or no shoulder and is not safe for parking. The shoulder of the road is a posted No Parking Zone.

How do I make a reservation?

Go the Travis County Hamilton Pool Preserve web page, read about the preserve, and then click on the Reservation Link. Choose a date and a time period, morning or afternoon, and pay for your reservation by credit card online. You’ll later pay again with cash when you purchase your entrance permit at the preserve.

What can I do if the date I want is already fully booked?

Once we are fully booked we cannot add more reservations. The size of the canyon is small and will only accommodate a limited number of people. Remember though, that people with reservations are allowed to relinquish them and reschedule to other dates. If the preserve is fully booked for the dates that you desire, you should check back periodically and look for vacancies to open up.

Should I purchase a reservation from somewhere other than your website?

If you purchase a reservation from somewhere other than our official Travis County Hamilton Pool Preserve web site we cannot guarantee that the reservation you buy is legitimate. We have seen forgeries and we do not honor them. It is against our policy to allow Hamilton Pool Preserve reservations to be used for commercial purposes. Remember that people with reservations are allowed to relinquish them and reschedule. If we are fully booked for dates that you desire, you should check back periodically and look for vacancies to open up.

How many people or vehicles can I bring on one reservation?

Your reservation will allow you to bring a maximum of one vehicle into the preserve. A maximum of 8 people can enter on one reservation. If you want to bring more than one vehicle, then you’ll need to have more reservations. If you are bringing more than 8 people then you’ll need to have more reservations.

I lost my reservation receipt to show upon arrival. How do I get another one?

  1. This procedure will help you obtain a duplicate receipt that you need to show when you arrive at the preserve. Only one copy of the receipt will be accepted for each reservation when you arrive at the preserve.
  2. Before you proceed, you will need to know the following details of your reservation: Reference Number, Name as it appears on the reservation, and the email address associated with the reservation. If you do not know these details you should first see the FAQ question “I lost the details of my reservation. How do I obtain them again?”.
  3. On the Travis County Hamilton Pool web page, click on the reservation link.
  4. Click on "My Reservation".
  5. Enter the following as shown on your original reservation: Reference Number, Name (as it appears on your reservation), and Email. Then click “Continue”.Look over the details of your reservation. If everything looks correct, click “Resend Permit”.
  6. See message that says an email has been sent to the email address associated with the reservation. The email contains the duplicate receipt that you can show when you arrive at the preserve. The email has the words “Hamilton Pool” and “Reservation Receipt [Duplicate]” in the subject line.

I lost the reference number and other details of my reservation. How do I obtain them again?

  1. This procedure will provide you with a few details of your reservation that will help you to perform some functions, such as rescheduling. It will NOT provide you with a receipt that you show when you arrive at the preserve. If you have lost your emailed receipt, or need to access more of the details of your reservation purchase, see the FAQ question “I lost my reservation receipt. How do I get another one?”
  2. Before you proceed, you will need to know the following details of your reservation: Reference Number, Name as it appears on the reservation, and the email address associated with the reservation. If you do not know these details you should first see the FAQ question “I lost the details of my reservation. How do I obtain them again?”.
  3. On the Travis County Hamilton Pool web page, click on the reservation link.
  4. Click on "Find My Reservation".
  5. Enter Email address associated with the reservation, the Number of the Month of the reservation (for example, “7” is correct, but not “July”), the Year of the reservation. If you forgot which month the reservation was in, then you’ll need to try out a few months until you find your reservation.
  6. Click “Continue”.
  7. You should see a message stating than an email with the details of the reservation has been sent to the email address associated with the reservation. The email should arrive very shortly. The details in the email will include things like date, time, and Reference Number.

Can I cancel my reservation and get a refund?

No, the reservation fees cannot be refunded. You may, however, reschedule your reservation to another date and time that has availability. You may also exchange your reservation for a credit voucher that lets you make a future reservation without paying again. Note that the deadline to reschedule or receive credit is midnight before your reservation. Although the $11 reservation fees are non-refundable, you will not be charged the $15 per vehicle entrance fee if you do not come to the preserve to use your reservation.

Can I change the date and time of my reservation?

Yes! By popular demand we have added this feature. Remember you CANNOT change your reservation on the same date as the reservation. The deadline to change your reservation is midnight before your reservation date. You can reschedule using two different methods. First, you can reschedule directly to another date and time, assuming that date and time is currently available. Alternatively, you can reschedule by obtaining a credit voucher that you can use in the future when a desired date and time become available. See the FAQ questions that pertain to these two rescheduling methods.

How do I reschedule when the date and time I desire are currently available?

  1. The deadline for rescheduling your reservation is midnight before your reservation. You cannot reschedule on the same date as your reservation.
  2. On the Travis County Hamilton Pool Preserve web page, click on the reservation link.
  3. You will need to know the following details of your reservation: Reference Number, Name (exact form given on reservation), and Email. If you don’t know these details you should click on the “Find My Reservation” button before proceeding with this procedure.
  4. Once you know the details of your reservation, click on “My Reservation” .
  5. Enter the following as found on your original reservation: Reference Number, Name (as it appears on your reservation), Email. Then click “Continue”.
  6. After looking over the data for your original reservation, click on “Reschedule”.
  7. On the “Reservation Reschedule” page click on “Search New Reservation” in Step 2.
  8. Look at calendar to confirm the date and time you desire is currently available. If no desirable date and time is available, then you should go to the FAQ question “How Do I reschedule when a desired date and time is not currently available?”. If a desired date and time is currently available, then enter the date in the “Reservation Date” box near the top of the screen. Click “Continue”.
  9. On the next page, click “Reserve” next to the desired time period.
  10. Look at Step 2 to see data on the new proposed reservation. If correct, then click “Confirm” in Step 3.
  11. You will see a reservation receipt that you can print. You will also receive an email with the receipt in the near future, usually within the hour.

How do I reschedule when a date and time I desire is NOT currently available? (Credit Voucher Method)

  1. The deadline for rescheduling your reservation is midnight before your reservation. You cannot reschedule on the same date as your reservation.
  2. The rescheduling method described for this FAQ question leads to the creation of a credit voucher that can be used for a future reservation. The voucher will expire after one year.
  3. On the Travis County Hamilton Pool web page, click on the reservation link.
  4. You will need to know the following details of your reservation: Reference Number, Name (exact form given on reservation), and Email. If you don’t know these details you should click on the “Find My Reservation” button before proceeding with this procedure.
  5. Once you know the details of your reservation, click on “My Reservation."
  6. Enter the following as found on your original reservation: Reference Number, Name (as it appears on your reservation), and Email. Then click “Continue."
  7. On the “My Reservation” information page, look over the details of the reservation you are about to change. If correct, click on “Reschedule."
  8. On the “Reservation Reschedule” page click on “Search New Reservation” in Step 2.
  9. Look at the calendar to see if any desirable time periods are currently available. If yes, then follow instructions under the FAQ question “How Do I Reschedule if the When the Date and Time I Desire Is Currently Available?”. If no desired date and time is currently available, you can relinquish your reservation in return for a credit voucher that will let you reserve another date and time when you notice that a suitable time becomes available. You will have one year to use the credit voucher.
  10. Once you decide that you prefer to obtain a credit voucher to be used for a future reservation, you should click on “No Availability” at the far upper right of the screen.
  11. You will see a pop up message stating that you are about to relinquish your current reservation in return for a credit voucher. Once you click “Yes” you will no longer have access to your current reservation. Click “Yes” to proceed.
  12. On the “Reservation Reschedule” page, see in Step 3 that a new voucher has been successfully created. Note the Voucher ID code. You will need this code and the associated email address to use the voucher to make a future reservation. You will be sent an email with this information to the address associated with the reservation in the very near future. Save the email and the voucher code. The email will have the words “Hamilton Pool Preserve” and “Reservation Voucher” in the subject line.

How much will I pay to come to Hamilton Pool with a reservation?

The typical total price for visiting Hamilton Pool Preserve is $26 per vehicle per morning or afternoon time slot. Typical vehicle fees are as follows:

  • $10 Reservation Fee – paid online with credit card, not refundable.
  • $1 Credit Card Service Fee – paid online with credit card, not refundable.
  • $15 Entrance Fee – paid at Hamilton Pool with cash or check, no credit or debit cards accepted at the Preserve. Temporary checks are not accepted.

Exceptions for the Entrance Fee:

  • With a valid Travis County Parks Annual Permit, a current Travis County Parks Day Use Permit, a person 62 years of age or older as an occupant, or for a Disabled Veteran providing Veteran Administration’s written documentation stating that an occupant of the vehicle has at least 60% service related disability, the Entrance Fee is $5 per vehicle.
  • The fee for pedestrians and bicyclists is $8 per person per reservation time period, plus the reservation fees. Maximum of 8 people per reservation.
  • There is an additional $5 trailer fee for vehicles with trailers.

Note: fees paid at the preserve must be paid in cash or check, no credit cards.

Do I get a refund if I do not use my reservation?

No, all reservation fees are non-refundable. Note though that if you do not come to the preserve during your reservation you will not be charged the $15 per vehicle entrance fee and so you will not pay the full cost of a visit, only the cost of the reservation. You can, however, reschedule your reservation or obtain a credit voucher for a future reservation. The deadline for rescheduling a reservation is midnight before your reservation. See the FAQ questions about rescheduling for more information.

How do I use my reservation when I arrive at the preserve?

Please have your reservation receipt ready and easily available to show to preserve staff when you arrive. You can either show us a printed copy of your receipt or a digital copy on your phone. Your receipt will be emailed to you soon after making the reservation. The email will have “Hamilton Pool” in the subject line.

When are the reservation periods each day?

We have two reservation periods every day. They are 9 am – 1 pm and 2 pm – 6 pm. Each reservation period requires a separate reservation, each with the associated reservation fees ($11). If you reserve both reservation periods on the same day, the entrance permit ($15 typically) bought for the first reservation period will apply to the second period as well. On each day, all recreational activities, such as hiking, birding, and swimming, will end at 12:30 pm and 5:30 pm. All visitors must return to their vehicles so that they can exit the preserve by 1 pm and 6 pm respectively. For the morning and afternoon periods, no entry is allowed after 12:30 pm or 5:30 pm.

Do I get a refund or get to reschedule if swimming is not allowed during my reservation time?

Swimming is not guaranteed with your reservation. Hamilton Pool Preserve is a scenic nature preserve in the federal Balcones Canyonlands Preserve system and we do not manage it as swimming facility. Since the water is not treated, bacteria levels can occasionally become too high for recreational swimming. On days when swimming is not allowed, we are almost always open for hiking to the pool and through the canyon. Your reservation fees are non-refundable. You do, however, have the option of rescheduling. The deadline for rescheduling is midnight before your reservation. You cannot reschedule on the date of your reservation. See the FAQ questions about rescheduling for more information.

What happens if we have rain or poor weather during my reservation?

The preserve will almost always be open for hiking through canyon and to the pool every day, even on rainy days. We cannot guarantee good weather during your reservation period. If the preserve is open for hiking during your reservation period then your reservation is active and it cannot be refunded or rescheduled, except by the normal rescheduling procedure. The deadline to reschedule is midnight before your reservation. You cannot reschedule on the same date as your reservation. See the FAQ questions regarding rescheduling. On rare occasions, we may close the entire preserve for hiking due to public safety reasons, such as flash flooding. In those rare cases, people with reservations will receive an email with instructions from us. They should see the FAQ question “What happens if the preserve is closed to all visitors due to a public safety hazard or emergency?” We strongly advise you to call the Public Information Phone Line (512-264-2740) for the most updated information about the status of the preserve. The message is updated daily at 8:30 am, and when rain causes us to change our status during the day.

What happens if the preserve if closed to all visitors, even hikers, due to a public safety hazard or emergency?

Although the preserve is almost always open for hiking, on rare occasions we sometimes close it to all visitors, even hikers. This can occur when there is a public safety hazard or an emergency in the preserve. Flash floods in the canyon are the most common cause of total closure of the preserve. Note that it is common for swimming to not be allowed and this does not constitute a closure of the entire preserve since hiking is almost always still permitted. Preserve staff will decide when such a total closure will occur. These total closures are rare. People with reservations during such a closure will receive an email giving instructions on how they can reschedule to a different date. The normal deadline for rescheduling will not apply when the entire preserve is closed to all visitors by staff for public safety hazards or emergencies. We strongly advise visitors to call our Public Information Phone Line (512-264-2740) for the most updated information. The message is updated daily at 8:30 am, and when rain changes our status during the day.

Can I use the reservations for commercial purposes?

No. The purpose of the reservation system is to allow the general public, like individuals and small groups or families, direct access to Hamilton Pool Preserve without needing to go through a commercial company.

Are lifeguards on duty at the preserve?

No lifeguards are on duty. Swim at your own risk. The pool is 25 feet deep at its deepest, and there have most unfortunately been drownings in the past. Please use caution if you plan to swim.

Do you provide life vests for swimmers?

Yes. We provide life vests to our swimmers, on loan, free of charge, as long as supplies last. The water is still deep with underwater hazards such as boulders and drop-offs, but the life vests help to reduce the potential for drowning if they are used properly. Be sure to read the instructions on how to use them properly when you take a life vest from the rack. Adults need to fit children with the proper size life vest. The rack is located near the pool. Please return the life vests to the rack after you have used it.

When is swimming allowed?

Typically, swimming is allowed when we do not suspect that bacteria counts are too high to meet health standards. We test the water for bacteria at least once a week, often twice a week in the summer. We don’t allow swimming following a significant rain, or after our water sample shows a high bacteria count. Since the bacteria counts and the weather are both hard to predict, it is not possible to say with certainty far in advance when swimming will be allowed. Historically, we have sometimes prohibited swimming early in the summer for Cliff swallow birds that nest above the pool and contaminate it, thereby raising the bacteria counts for a couple of weeks. Even this phenomenon is difficult to predict.

If swimming is not allowed, what other activities are there to do?

Most visitors enjoy hiking to the pool and photographing the waterfall, as well as relaxing on the beach or in the shade of the rock overhang. On most occasions, you can also hike two-thirds of a mile through the plush canyon to the Pedernales River.

What type of bacteria causes the problem with swimming?

Although we test for E coli bacteria, the most serious threats are a multitude of other bacteria that are associated with E coli. It lives in the intestines of warm blooded animals, along with lots of other infectious bacteria. We test for E coli because both the State and the EPA suggest testing for E coli.

Following a heavy rain, how long will the bacteria level remain high?

This can vary greatly, from just a few days to a couple of weeks. Generally, the greater the rain fall the longer the time for the bacteria counts to fall. It is common for the counts to return to safe levels after a few days.

Can we gurantee safe bacteria levels on days when we allow swimming?

No. We try to make timely management decisions by monitoring rainfall daily and testing the water regularly, but there can be a delay from the time bacteria levels rise and the time we detect the rise. As with swimming in any natural body of water, you should swim at your own risk.

How did the pool form?

Hamilton Pool is known as a collapsed grotto. The overlying limestone is more resistant to erosion than the underlying rock. During flood events the lower rock gets eroded more than the rock above. Eventually this causes a large overhang that is immediately obvious to visitors at the pool. As the erosion process continues, the overhang will eventually collapse and the process will begin again, with the waterfall moving back a little with each collapse. This erosional process has been occurring for roughly 100,000 years, with the waterfall moving backwards up the canyon roughly two-thirds of a mile in that time.

How deep is the pool?

The pool is usually measured to be about 25 feet deep at its deepest, but the depth varies due to the boulders and irregular bottom.

What types of plants and animals do we have at Hamilton Pool Preserve?

This is too involved to give a detailed answer, but we have a wide selection of life that is native to central Texas. Just some of the animals include fox, bobcat, porcupine, skunk, White-tailed deer, possum, various species of mice, sun fish, carp, various snakes including water moccasins, large variety of insects, and many other species. We even have some probable sightings of mountain lion, although those are rare. If you are interested in birds, we have a great many to look for, especially in the spring as the migrants pass through. Ask for our Hamilton Pool Preserve Bird List at the entrance booth. Our most famous bird is the federally endangered Golden-cheeked Warbler.

What types of land management projects occur at Hamilton Pool Preserve?

We and other agencies conduct bird surveys, especially for the Golden-cheeked Warbler, deer censuses, juniper control in certain areas, prescribed burns, non-native species control activity, erosion control, and miscellaneous other species monitoring projects.

Are drones allowed?

Drones are not allowed at Hamilton Pool Preserve, but they are allowed at nearby Reimers Ranch Park, as long as they are not flown over other people.

Are guided tours provided?

We provide guided tours only on Saturdays at 10 am during the months from October through April. We also offer a written self-guided tour brochure that will identify points of interest at various numbered stops along the trail.

Why can't I bring my pet?

Hamilton Pool Preserve is a nature preserve that is part of a larger federal preserve. We are bound to follow the policy of not allowing pets. Pets can disrupt the behavior of the native animals even after the pets have left. They are not allowed to stay inside the vehicles either. Pets are welcome in nearby Reimers Ranch Park, another Travis County Parks only a mile away. There is lots of room for hiking at Reimers Ranch Park.

Prescribed Burning

How often are prescribed burns conducted?

Prescribed burns are conducted as often as possible provided the conditions are appropriate for meeting land management objectives. We set goals each season and hope to conduct between 10 and 20 prescribed burns each year totaling 500-1000 acres, however weather, resources and other constraints often limit what can be accomplished in any given year.

Why are prescribed burns conducted?

Fire is a normal, natural, and essential process in nearly all Texas landscapes, including those in Travis County. Prescribed burns are implemented to mimic natural fires and are designed to meet specific land management and/or fuel reduction goals. The goals for prescribed burns vary, but they are generally conducted to reduce the amount of fuel as well as to reduce the density of brush (and sometimes trees) and to increase the diversity of grasses and forbs (a flowering plant other than grass). Routine prescribed burns can make landscapes more resilient to disturbances, such as wildfires, by reducing fuel loads and encouraging a diversity of plant species.

Why is it called a presribed burn?

A prescribed burn requires a prescription that identifies specific fuel and weather parameters to ensure the fire behavior will meet objectives and can be safely controlled by the resources on-site. This prescription is only a small part of a much larger plan that details how the prescribed burn will be implemented. In contrast, a controlled burn does not require the same level of planning, resources, and coordination.

Who conducts the prescribed burns?

Travis County Parks manages the prescribed burns. Travis County Parks has qualified fire management staff and has also entered into agreements with local fire departments and land management agencies such as the Texas Forest Service, The Nature Conservancy, and the US Fish and Wildlife Service that allow us to share resources on prescribed burns. All partner agencies meet the same federal standards for firefighter qualifications, fitness and safety requirements.

Will this reduce the fire danger?

Prescribed burns can reduce fuel loads over time and routine prescribed burns may make communities more fire adapted by altering the fire behavior from a wildfire (reducing flame lengths, radiant heat and ember production). Prescribed burns are also an important training tool and provide opportunities for individuals and agencies to cooperate, collaborate, and to develop skills in a controlled environment that allows for more efficient fire suppression operations.

Why is a burn implemented on a certain day?

Specific fuel and weather parameters are required to meet the ecological and operational objectives. The amount of fuel, fuel moistures, weather conditions (particularly the relatively humidity, wind direction and wind speed) are evaluated closely to ensure the operation is conducted as safely and with as few negative impacts as possible.

How is the fire controlled?

Firelines are constructed around the perimeter of the prescribed burn area and may include roads, creeks, or hand lines. Fire personnel are in place along the perimeter of the prescribed burn area to ensure the firelines are reinforced during the burn. The downwind side of the fire is ignited first along the fireline. This fire is backing into the wind and therefore has a lower intensity and can be managed by fire personnel. The crews continue to ignite along both sides of the prescribed burn area and, after the fire has backed into the wind sufficiently to ensure no fire or embers can reach beyond the firelines, the headfire is ignited. This headfire is more intense than the backing fire but, because the backing fire has burned all the fuel downwind of the headfire, the headfire cannot cross the fireline. Contingency crews are in place to manage any unexpected problems with the fire or smoke. After the burn is complete, the crews remain on-site to patrol and mop-up as long as necessary to ensure no embers remain that could cause the fire to cross the containment lines later.

Is it expensive?

Prescribed burning is generally the cheapest and most beneficial land management treatment available to land managers. The cost is less than half of a comparable mechanical or chemical treatment and the result is generally better with few negative ecological impacts.

What happens to the animals?

Most Texas ecosystems (including the animals that live in them) are well adapted to fire and there is generally very little mortality to animals. Not everything in the burn unit burns-there are places where the fire does not carry and often the canopies of the trees are unaffected. Although some individual animals may be harmed, the populations are not impacted and generally benefit from periodic burns.

Why do you burn in the summer?

There are many reasons for burning in the summer. We conduct prescribed burns in the summer partially because we cannot meet all of our targets by burning in the winter due to limited burn windows and staffing limitations. However, the most important reasons are ecological. A summer burn produces very different fire effects than a winter burn due to the different phenological stage of the plant (growing versus dormant), life cycle (growing, seeding or dormant) or fire intensity. Generally, we impact targeted woody species more heavily, particularly the hardwoods which are actively growing during the summer. Summer fires also encourage forbs and improve the health of native grasses. Finally, summer burn conditions often provide for better smoke dispersion than a winter fire.

Why is the Travis County conducting burns during a burn ban or in the drought?

A burn ban is recommended by the Travis County Fire Marshal and approved by the Commissioners Court when the Keetch-Byram Drought Index (KBDI) reaches a certain threshold and/or the fire departments are running a high volume of calls. The intent is to prevent the number of unintended ignitions. Essentially, burn bans are implemented when fuels are receptive to ignitions and fires have the possibility of moving across the landscape. These are the same conditions that we require to conduct our prescribed burns and generally we find a close correlation between when our burns are in prescription and when the burn bans are in place.

We consider the KBDI and the general fire situation (number of starts etc.) when we evaluate conditions for our prescribed burns, but we also evaluate a number of other fire danger indexes as well as fuel and weather parameters. The decision to burn is based on a broad range of criteria and may identify good burn days within a burn ban and vice versa. The important thing is that burns are only conducted when certain requirements for fuels, weather and staffing are met.

We obtain the necessary permits and coordinate closely with the local fire departments, fire marshal, emergency management coordinators and other entities before we implement any prescribed burns.

What is the Keetch-Byram Drought Index?

The Keetch-Byram Drought Index is one of many indexes used to track the drought conditions. It is commonly used because it can be easily tracked with limited measuring equipment; all that is needed is an observation of rainfall amounts and the condition of the sky (sunny, cloudy, etc.). In the simplest terms, it is a measurement of the moisture in the top 8 inches of the soil with a number of 0 indicating 8 inches of rain would be necessary to bring the soil moisture back to saturation and 800 indicating saturated soils. A low KBDI has been shown to be correlated with problem fires but it is not a predictor of problem fire conditions and other factors such as recent rains, winds, etc. need to be evaluated as well to determine the fire conditions on any particular day.

How do you manage the smoke?

Smoke management is one of the key criteria for all of prescribed burns and it is even more critical in densely populated areas. Prescribed burns are conducted on days with good smoke dispersion and with favorable wind speeds and directions to avoid the receptors (schools, homes, roads, etc.) located closest to the burn unit and areas that are densely populated. Light smoke and the odor of smoke can often affect a large area near a burn. This type of smoke is often a nuisance but does not generally pose a health risk. The primary focus is on minimizing smoke impacts in adjacent neighborhoods and along the roadways where the greatest smoke impacts are anticipated.

Through multiple media outlets, sensitive receptors are notified as broadly as possible, particularly those closest to the fire. Signs may be posted in adjacent neighborhoods and sensitive receptors such as schools may be contacted directly. Finally, signs may be posted on roads to alert drivers to the potential for smoke.

Prescribed burns do release significant amounts of emissions, primarily small particulate matter. However, fires are a normal and natural occurrence and by conducting prescribed burns we have greater control on when, where, and how much emissions are produced in comparison to a wildfire. Although emissions from a prescribed fire can be heavy, they last a short time and have fewer negative impacts than the larger volume and continuous emissions from other sources, such as vehicles, power plants etc.

All the regulations identified in the Outdoor Burning Rules are met and notify the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) is notified before each burn. Prescribed burns are not conducted on Ozone Action Days.