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Aquarena Springs Receives Face-Lift


KXAN36-TV (05/10/2006)

Remember diving mermaids and Ralph the Swimming Pig? Aquarena Springs in San Marcos is considered one of the nation's first theme parks.

Now, almost 80 years later, it's undergone quite a face-lift. It's gone from a theme park to a research facility, all in the name of the environment.

"For a long time, this was a center of Texas tourism," Andrew Sansom, executive director of the River Systems Institute, said.

For much of the 1900s, Aquarena Springs resort was the top theme park in Texas.

"The Rogers family originated the amusement park here, which included underwater shows that had featured mermaids and Ralph the Swimming Pig," Sansom said.

A hotel opened in 1929, and over the years, it became run down. So Texas State University bought it and received $3.5 million in funding to restore it to its original look. Now it houses offices that conduct research on the springs.

"We have research on water chemistry. We have research on the endangered species that occur in the lake. We have research on native and exotic plants," Sansom said.

The next phase of renovations will tear down the old tram, space needle, and remove the submarine.

"It will be completely removed from the site, so that it will be restored, essentially, to a native meadow as it would have occurred prior to the turn of the 20th century," Sansom said.

However, the old-time glass-bottom boats will stay.

"The glass-bottom boats provide a spectacular opportunity for people to see the springs and the organisms up close and personal," Sansom said.

You can even watch scientists at work as they uncover stone tools dating back 12,000 years.

Along with the renovations, the springs give you a first-hand look at why our water is so precious.

"Watering lawns in San Antonio affects the flow of these springs. That growth in western Hays and Travis County affects the health of this resource. We can't take it for granted," Sansom said.

If you would like to check out the Aquarena Center, it's open seven days a week.