Words by Anne Heinen

If there’s anything Garrison Brothers’ founder Dan Garrison likes as much as bourbon, it’s Texas’s wide open spaces and natural treasures, like Balmorhea State Park and its beautiful springfed pool, an oasis in the dry West Texas landscape.

Garrison and his wife Nancy’s connection to Balmorhea started with family. The couple’s two children learned to swim in its constant-temperature, clear waters, accompanied by the pool’s naturally present wildlife like turtles and fish. In 2018, the Garrisons were planning a fundraising event for the park when damage was discovered in a concrete retaining wall beneath the diving board, threatening its stability. Texas Parks and Wildlife promptly closed the pool for safety and to assess the damage and expensive repair.

“Did I mention that bourbon can increase your faith in man and God?” Garrison asks, noting that the wall collapse was the impetus for him and Nancy to help rebuild the pool by founding the nonprofit Good Bourbon for a Good Cause in 2018. They held pool-party fundraisers across the state and fundraising dinners at fine restaurants like Truluck’s in Austin.

Photo by Kathy McFarland

The couple also earmarked a percentage of the sales price of every bottle of the distillery’s Balmorhea bourbon, the 2019 American Whiskey of Year, helping the Garrisons’ foundation raise more than $30,000 for the painstaking repair job made all the trickier by the ongoing presence of the pool’s endangered species. Fracking company Apache Energy Co. matched Garrison’s contribution for a total of $60,000 flowing from Good Bourbon for a Good Cause to Balmorhea. Apache later contributed additional funds to the pool’s restoration.

Good Bourbon for a Good Cause backs other causes as well, including those that support people in need in the Hill Country towns near the Garrison Brothers distillery, as well as those that focus on veterans, the military and first responders, such as Team Rubicon. And Garrison hopes to help other parks, including Devil’s River and Big Bend.

“The state is growing so fast,” Garrison says. “We’ve got 28 million people living here. It’s becoming an urban environment without enough green space.”

Garrison’s next contribution to Balmorhea includes a 100-year plan that also will fund the pool’s rejuvenation, beautification, and longevity. “I met out there recently with an engineer, a hydrologist, a landscape architect and a native plant expert,” he says.

The distiller is no stranger to private-public partnerships that such an endeavor will entail. Back in the early 2000’s, Garrison founded The Town Lake Trail Foundation to make major improvements to the Ann and Roy Butler Trail that circumnavigates Lady Bird Lake in the heart of Austin.

“A lot of people knew the trail was important to them as individuals, but it took someone like Dan with the vision to create an organization with capacity to make substantial improvements that made it better for Austinites and visitors,” says Susan Plettman Rankin, former executive director of the Trail Foundation. “He conveyed that the trail is a critical part of many people’s daily lives, for people from all walks of life.”

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