Don’t Test the Waters by Swimming in Lady Bird Lake

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Tony Maples Photography


Did you know that you’re not allowed to swim in Austin’s famous “Town Lake,” also known as Lady Bird Lake? With all of the boaters and stand-up-paddlers, this probably surprises many. It’s not a new law though. This law has been in place since 1964.

Swimming Banned Since 1964

Lady Bird Lake

Photo: Flickr/Anne Worner

Austin’s Parks and Recreation Department provided two reasons for the ban on swimming in Lady Bird Lake: one being a combination of poor water quality and the other, the danger posed by debris leftover from bridges and dams. It’s also speculated that a series of drowning deaths on the lake in the 1950s and 1960s – including two young sisters who waded into a 20-foot pit – led to Austin City Council passing the ordinance.

The City of Austin created the reservoir in 1960 as a cooling pond for the new city power plant. The reservoir is named in honor of former First Lady of the United States Lady Bird Johnson, who called Austin her home for much of her life. In the 1970s, Lady Bird focused her attention on the Austin riverfront area through her involvement in the Town Lake Beautification Project. From 1971 to 1978, she served on the board of regents for the University of Texas System.  She also served on the National Park Service Advisory Board and was the first woman to serve on National Geographic Society‘s Board of Trustees. So, nature and preserving our resources was clearly one of her passions. 

Are You Ever Allowed in the Water?

Kayaking Lady Bird Lake

Photo: Flickr/Dave Wilson

What happens if you are kayaking on Town Lake and you fall in? The rules explain that you’re only allowed to swim in the lake if you are “rescuing someone (presumably yourself included), doing construction authorized by the city or swimming in a permitted event.”

So, if you fall out of your kayak, you’d better get back to the boat as quickly as possible. The punishment for being caught swimming in Lady Bird Lake is a $500 fine. Why risk it when there are so many other places to swim in the Texas Hill Country?