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200-foot-long section of limestone cliff collapses in west Travis Co. park

A limestone cliff collapsed in a west Travis County park destroying a popular rock climbing wall. It's the latest rock fall in what's been a wet winter. (Photo:Michael Brewster, Travis Co. Parks)

A limestone cliff collapsed in a west Travis County park destroying a popular rock climbing wall. It's the latest rock fall in what's been a wet winter.

Tuesday night, a 200-foot-long section of a limestone cliff in Reimers Ranch Park broke off and crashed to the ground. Michael Brewster with Travis County Parks says it's the largest rock fall in at least 13 years. He calls it a rare event.

"It just breaks off in big chunks. It doesn't crumble down like soft rock," said Professor Charles Kerans with UT's Jackson School of Geosciences.

The geology professor says the steady, heavy rain that's fallen this winter can cause more fracturing.

"When we increase water-flow through those fracture systems it's going to decrease the friction between the rock layers and that will make it easier for those rocks to break away," said Professor Kerans.

"Prototype" wall in Reimers Ranch Park near Hamilton Pool is just the latest example of nature at work. Earlier in January rocks fell from the cliffs bordering RM 2222 closing the road temporarily.

"The combination of the fact that you have the soft shale below and the hard limestone above it, that's an ideal scenario for this type of failure," said Professor Kerans.

While wet weather contributes to the problem, scientists and park officials say the sport of rock climbing does not. They consider it inconsequential to breakage that can happen with no perceptible warning.

"It would be extremely difficult to predict the timing," said Professor Kerans.

At the popular limestone cliffs along Loop 360, sightseers didn't seem ready to let the remote chance of a collapse keep them away.

"It could happen anywhere at any time. It could happen right now," said Lauren Gimotty.

"We're living life on the edge, literally," said Sam Henry Famer as he stood at the top of the cliffs.

The area at Reimers Ranch Park is now closed to the public. Travis County Parks officials say a geologist is being brought in to see if the cliffs are safe for hikers and rock climbers. Once park officials get the OK they say the area will reopen.


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