Places

10 Things You Didn’t Know About Lake Travis

Austinites are rejoicing because the largest recreational body of water in town is finally full again for the first time in five years. Along with Lake Austin, Lake Travis has classically been the center of aquatic party life in Austin, until the Texas drought caused water levels to sink to the point that many of the marinas were unusable. Thankfully, for now, those days are over. So before you prepare to set out on the lake this summer, check out this list of 10 facts you might not have known about Lake Travis.

10. It’s not a lake, it’s a reservoir.

Flickr/Craig Allen
Flickr/Craig Allen

Construction began on Mansfield Dam in 1937 and was completed by 1941.  It was built by the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) and the The Texas Legislature to hold floodwaters and serve as a local water source.

9. Traffic used to drive over the dam itself.

Image via Texas Freeways
Image via Texas Freeways

Before the 620 bridge was built, traffic crossed a narrow, two-lane highway over the actual dam. It wasn’t long before the popularity of the lake necessitated the construction of a four-lane highway which is what we currently cross to get to the lake. The old road is now closed to through traffic, and only used for maintenance vehicles.

8. There are some monsters out there.

Flickr/USFWSMidwest
Flickr/USFWSMidwest

According to Texas Parks and Wildlife, the current record holder for largest fish caught in Lake Travis was a 54.78 lb flathead catfish caught by T. Bennet Sansom in March, 2007. (The fish pictured is not the record-holding fish.)

7. It provides both water and electricity.

Flickr/Ferrous Büller
Flickr/Ferrous Büller Turbine on display at Lake Travis Mansfield Dam

Not only does the lake serve as a water resource for central Texas, and a floodwater reservoir, Mansfield Dam is a hydroelectric dam that generates  electricity for the area. The dam has three turbines that, when filled to capacity, can generate 108 megawatts of electricity.

6. Lake Travis can hold… lots of water.

Flickr/Anthony Quintano
Flickr/Anthony Quintano

When the lake is filled to its spillway elevation at 714 feet, it can hold 626,691,999,536 gallons of water. For those of you who don’t want to read that enormous number, it’s over six hundred billion. However, the lake has never reached that elevation. The highest recorded point it ever reached was 710 feet in December of 1991.

5. There’s a nude beach.

Image via Wikimedia Commons
Image via Wikimedia Commons

Most new Austinites are treated to a host of jokes about Hippie Hollow from the natives, but if you don’t live here, maybe you don’t know how weird we can really get. Hippie Hollow is a 109-acre area on the shores of Lake Travis that is clothing optional (read: nudist). If you’ve seen pictures of Devil’s cove and you’re thinking hubba-hubba right now, cool your jets, man. They offer Senior (and I don’t mean student) discounts. It’s said to be a place for peaceful nature-lovers.

4. Some still know the dam as Marshall Ford.

Image via University of North Texas
Image via University of North Texas

When the dam was first built, it was built on an old river crossing and settlement known as Marshall Ford. The name of the dam was changed to Mansfield Dam in 1942 to honor United States Representative J.J. Mansfield, who aided in the completion of the project. The Army Corps of Engineers, for some reason, still refers to it as Marshall Ford though.

3. You can thank devastating floods for its construction.

Congress Avenue after 1935 flood - Image via Austin Public Library
Congress Avenue after 1935 flood – Image via Austin Public Library

In the early part of the 20th century the colorado river was constantly flooding, causing catastrophic property damage to nearby farms, as well as great loss of human and animal (livestock) life. The U.S. Department of the Interior then created the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) to address the issues surrounding the river in central Texas, and the reservoir was built to ease this flooding.

2. LBJ helped to create it.

Facebook/Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park
Facebook/Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park LBJ with Canadian dignitaries at LBJ Ranch in 1965

At the time of the construction of the dams that created what are now known as the Highland Lakes  (Lake Travis, Lake Buchanan, Lake Marble Falls, Lake LBJ, Inks Lake, and Lake Austin) the future president of the United States was a Texas Senator who lobbied that the hydroelectric energy generated by the dams would be a boon to the Texas economy. Lake Granite Shoals was renamed Lake LBJ in honor of his efforts.

1. There are no lakes in Austin.

Image via Wikipedia
Image via Wikipedia

Not natural ones, anyway. All the Highland lakes are actually dammed-off reservoirs of the Colorado River. Also, all the lakes are connected. It might not seem so when driving from one dock to another, but the bodies of water that create Lake Austin and Lake Travis, for example, are separated only by the Mansfield Dam.

recommended for you

10 Things You Didn’t Know About Lake Travis