Austin
8:46 am
Thu February 28, 2013

New Rules Reversed at Hippie Hollow, Austin's Clothing-Optional Park (Update)

Update: Travis County Parks reversed its decision to change boating rules at Hippie Hollow on Lake Travis at a public meeting last night.

In fact, after about a week of tension between Travis County Parks and people who frequent Hippie Hollow, the meeting ended with laughter and applause.

“This is a great example of a grass roots movement. Where people are trying to reach out the administrators who work in their government and the guys come to the table and listen to what the folks have to say,” Friends of the Hollow member Randall Huntsinger said.

Travis County Parks Director Charles Bergh spent over an hour addressing the group. Questions were posed about why buoy lines were drawn certain ways, what areas are appropriate (and legal) for nakedness and what issues of swimmer safety inspired the county’s recent action.

Bergh admitted that the county had made a mistake in barring boats from Hippie Hollow. He offered a plan that would allow boaters to continue anchoring in the area by essentially moving the buoy lines back to their previous location.

“We originally made a change to the buoy line, which really kind of denied [boaters’] access to the park, said Bergh. “And we heard their feedback and realized that it was a mistake on our end. And we’ve went back and made a proposed modification to the buoy line.”

Bergh and the boaters also discussed opening up more channels of communication to avoid hostilities in the future. Will Coombes, the de facto leader of Friends of the Hollow, said the group was “pleased that the Parks Department came to the table acknowledging that had made a misstep and they seem legitimate in their want to fix that, and actually engage the community.”

Friends of the Hollow did argue for even more boating space at Hippie Hollow, especially during several of the summer holiday weekends, like Splash Days. And Charles Bergh agreed to open that up for more discussion.

But for now, Bergh said, boaters should soon be able to return to Texas’ only-clothing optional park, pending, “administrative action.”

Original Story (Feb. 28, 6:39 a.m.):

Audio from KUT's Morning Edition, 2/27

Hippie Hollow lies in the basin area of Lake Travis—about 30 minutes outside of Austin. It’s is a popular destination for boaters, sunbathers and swimmers. The steep, rocky shoreline can provide some excellent views of the lake. It also provides cover for visitors—who often don’t wear clothes.

Lake Travis's nude swimming hole has been helping to keep Austin weird for years,  but Hippie Hollow’s atmosphere might soon change. Travis County has closed off Texas’s only clothing-optional park to boats that want to anchor there. Many who frequent that area of Lake Travis aren't happy with the change. 

The county says Hippie Hollow was closed to boats until the '90s—when it opened the east cove to prevent boats from damaging neighborhood water lines. 

"At that time, there were 10, 15 boats at any given time," Travis County Parks Western District Manager Dan Perry says. "Smaller boats back in the '90s, mostly 20 footers. Give or take. Ski boats, runabouts [small motorboats], that sort of thing. Things like that. There really wasn’t a whole lot of impact on the park."

Over the years, Perry says, the neighborhoods got public water, so they had no need for the water lines. He also says the number and size of the boats has increased.

"The number of boats out there is much greater than there used to be," Perry says. "With people backing in and pulling out in and amongst the swimmers, just the potential of someone accidentally putting it in reverse or forward or what have you raises the potential for some swimming or a water accident." Perry also states that new anchoring restrictions will help prevent minors from entering the 18-plus park. 

As a result, Travis County Parks says, the buoy lines were moved back to their original configuration from the 1970s.

But not everyone thinks Hippie Hollow should be closed to boats.

"The boat level, currently at the park, prior to the change, was totally adequate for the space," Randall Huntsinger says. 

Huntsinger is a Lake Travis boater and member of Friends of The Hollow—a group of almost one thousand members who enjoyed anchoring off of Hippie Hollow. The organization has a Change.org petition up and is asking the Travis County Parks to work with the boating community to resume anchoring off Hippie Hollow. 

"The majority of the time, there are no more than seven or eight boats tied side by side in this area," Huntsinger says. "And there’s not any problem with boats there as far as volume. For that matter, swimmers interact between the boats and shoreline without problem."

The Friends of the Hollow website says their members "received justification [for the move from Travis County Parks] ranging from boats attracting “a certain demographic” to the accusation that boaters bring underage people to the park."

Huntsinger says that Hippie Hollow does see high boat traffic at least twice a year. Splash Days at Hippie Hollow celebrate the beginning and end of summer. The events are hosted by the gay and lesbian community. Huntsinger believes the new regulations will put an end to those festivities.

"[Splash Days] are a financial influx for the entire community of hundreds of thousands of dollars," Huntsinger says. "People travel from all over the country to spend time on the lake during the day and socialize with their friends downtown at night."

There was a Splash incident in 2004 when a party barge capsized. There were no major injuries. But Travis County Parks says that is enough of a reason to put the new rules in place.

"We want to separate the propellers from the people," Dan Perry says.

Travis County Parks is holding a public meeting from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Feb. 27 on the changes at Hippie Hollow at the Travis County West Service Center located at 4501 Highway 620 North.