Balmorhea Pool Shortens Hours, Local Economy Suffering

Balmorhea Pool Shortens Hours, Local Economy Suffering

TOYAHVALE, TX (KWES) - Unexpected changes at a popular July 4th destination have led to serious consequences for local business owners.

Toyahvale residents said new restrictions and shorter hours at Balmorhea State Park are "destroying" their tourism-driven economy.

"It all started three years ago when [park officials] began limiting the number of cars entering the park," explained Elizabeth Lewis, the daughter of a local motel owner. "And then this March, they started closing the pool at 6 p.m. instead of sunset."

She said the early closure at San Solomon Springs swimming pool was implemented with no explanation or announcement. Within three months, her mother's business had taken a nearly 50 percent hit in revenue, Lewis told NewsWest 9.

"People have even asked for their money back," she said. "They travel for thousands of miles, wait for hours and then can't get in [to the pool]. They want a refund and they do want to rethink their trip."

An out-of-state family told NewsWest 9 they abandoned their spot in the waiting line of cars Friday afternoon, after realizing the swimming pool was no longer open until sunset.

A petition calling for the restoration of the pool's previous "full-day use" status is currently circulating. Meanwhile, Reeves County Commissioners signed a resolution in June, saying the abridged hours "have caused the number of visitors to significantly decline, thus hurting the local economy and all of those who depend on the busy summer months of tourism to boost profits."

Darrel Rhyne, the owner of Toyahvale Desert Oasis, said sales plummeted 80 percent at his scuba diving and souvenir shop after the park adopted its new rules. His family has since started selling yard art and "trying anything [they] can to keep the doors open."

"It has affected not only our business, but it has affected all the local businesses," Rhyne said of the shortened pool hours and the park's limit on cars. "[It's affecting] the restaurants, the hotels, the grocery stores [and] the little service stations."

Lewis said the once reliable influx of summer tourists are now "diminishing week by week."

"It's going to make this area a ghost town," she told NewsWest 9.

Balmorhea State Park officials did not return calls for comment.