Hamilton Pool is not a last-minute destination. It’s about an hour away from Austin and before you even get in the car to make the drive, it takes weeks, or even months, of lead-time.
That’s because, for the last two years, Travis County Parks has used an online reservation system to save swimmers a coveted spot by the emerald pool.
It’s a change of pace from the old, crapshoot system that often required hopeful swimmers to wait to get in line (in a car in oppressive summer heat), only to get turned away if, or when, the park reached capacity.
The new process bypasses that uniquely sweat-logged misery, but the spots fill up fast.
Buyers on the peer-to-peer marketplace, where you can find everything from free bedframes to a tastefully curated selection of sci-fi laserdiscs, can now find second-hand reservations to Hamilton Pool. The problem is, it’s not exactly above board – but it’s not illegal. While the county’s reservations are nontransferrable, it’s still legal to resell tickets under state law. Cities can ban scalping, but Dripping Springs, home of Hamilton Pool, has no such law.
The cost to reserve online is $10 — with a $1 convenience fee — and would-be swimmers can book either a morning or afternoon slot for the pool. They sell out fast, and you still have to pay $15 per car to get into the park once you arrive.
Dan Perry, park manager with the Travis County Parks Department, says the department noticed the trend a couple weeks ago, and he’s seen reservations going for as much as $50. Parks employees and other Craigslist users have flagged the posts after a Reddit post highlighted the scalping, but Perry says the county may turn up the heat as the summer swimming season begins.
“Right now, we’re just trying to see what we can and cannot do. Not only from a legal standpoint, but what our reservation company is capable of doing –what suggestions they might bring forth,” Perry said. “We’re just kind of in the discovery phase on this, and we’re just trying to figure out what’s going on so we can address it.”
Perry said Hamer Enterprises, the contractor that handles the reservation system, could end up tracking down the origin of the tickets and answering a lot of questions.
“We have the company kind of looking into it to find out is this one person doing this? Is it multiple people doing it? I think they can extrapolate that by determining [if this] is this all being booked from the same computer. Is this the same credit card? All that back-end information is being looked into.”
Going forward, Travis County Parks will start checking IDs at the front gate to ensure the reservation matches for each of the roughly 150 cars coming in and out of the park every day.
Perry said if people come in with a forged or changed ticket, they’re not going to be let in the park, and officials are looking into voiding the ones that have been posted on Craigslist, if they can.
Since this season’s reservations opened up, Perry says the pool has been booked solid pretty much every day. Last summer, it sold out every day.
So, this year, Perry says your best bet is to use the county’s reservation system, or buy one on Craigslist and risk a long, hot car ride home. Or you could just go to Reimer’s Ranch.