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Cell Phone Safety Concerns At Hamilton Pool

Updated: Tuesday, August 5 2014, 05:57 PM CDT

75,000 people visit Hamilton Pool in far Southwest Travis County each year. Many more are turned away. The Chief Park Ranger says this past weekend, at peak times, 200 cars an hour were being waved off. With demand that high, safety and cell phone reception are becoming bigger concerns. 

This historic swimming hole is one of Travis County's natural treasures. But, preserving the beauty requires some trade-offs. 

"You're at your own risk," said first time visitor Stacey Blanchard. 

She says the dangers are clearly spelled out on warning signs. 

"At some places it's up to 25 feet deep," said Blanchard. 

The signs tell visitors the pool also has an uneven bottom with drop-offs and visitors swim at their own risk. 

"And there are also signs posted that there aren't any lifeguards," said the mother of three. 

But, while the warnings are hard to miss, directions on the same signs to call 911 in an emergency are almost useless. On Monday, Hamilton Pool is at capacity and many visitors have no cell phone signals. 

So we decided to test cell reception in case we needed to make an emergency call. The first stop was at the bridge that leads to Hamilton Pool. We got no service. Then we tried to make a call closer to the cliffs surrounding the pool and still no service for anyone needing to make an emergency call. Finally, we checked on the beach where most people hang out. My phone got no service, so we checked a different phone with a different carrier and still had no luck. 

"At the very best, at the very best, it's unreliable," said Dan Chapman, Travis County's Chief Park Ranger. "Once you drop down into the canyon from the parking lot the cell phone tower signal just won't reach down there." 

Which means for much of the year calling for help is a struggle. 

"People have to run up to the top of the hill to get cell phone service to call 911," said Chapman. 

During the summer swimming months park staff patrol Hamilton Pool and can radio for help. But, a year-round solution to the problem is in the works. 

"We have a plan to establish Wi-Fi around the pool area," said Chapman. 

It should be available by the end of 2015. Until then, many of the visitors we talked to aren't complaining. 

"I actually like it being a swimming hole. I think it's part of its beauty actually," said Blanchard. 

The cost of adding Wi-Fi to Hamilton pool is expected to run between $80,000 and $100,000. 

By Bettie Cross

Cell Phone Safety Concerns At Hamilton Pool

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