Earlier this month, the city announced the completion of Whirlpool Patio, a wee but fetching "gathering space" near the Violet Crown Trailhead at Latta Drive and Convict Hill. A joint project of the Austin Urban Trails Program and Hill Country Conservancy, the patio is also located under the MoPac expressway—a site that might seem odd to those unversed in the ways of young spelunkers or the overarching plan for the Violet Crown Trail.
One of the primary reasons for creating the patio, which indeed sports a design that resembles a whirlpool but could double as a spiral path for a brief walking meditation is as a staging and education area for schoolchildren who are about to experience the crawl-through Whirlpool Cave nearby.
According to geoscientist Nico Hauwert, who has been leading tours of the cave for more than 30 years, “the Whirlpool Cave is challenging and can be really scary for young kids who have never been underground. So, it’s important that students know what to expect before we enter the cave. The Whirlpool Patio will help students feel more comfortable and excited about the adventure to come.”
When complete, the Violet Crown Trail will be 30 miles long and will create a continuous connection for pedestrians and cyclists (including commuters) from Austin's Zilker Park to Hays County, south of the city. The trail passes through the Edwards Aquifer recharge area, which replenishes underground stores of rainwater that feed springs (like that famous Barton one) as well as providing drinking water for around 60,000 people. Many of the caves formed by the water are popular places for outdoor explorers, and 1,000-2,000 people visited Whirlpool Cave each year in pre-pandemic times. It's one of the 62 caves required to be protected by the Balcones Canyonlands Conservation Plan and is managed by the Texas Cave Management Association.