SAN MARCOS, TEXAS — Less than six months after devastating flood waters inundated the grounds, buildings and attractions at Aquarena Center on the Southwest Texas State University campus, the park will reopen March, with remodeled buildings, restored boats, new exhibits and a competent, knowledgeable team of employees ready and eager to instruct visitors on the rare and intriguing ecosystem of the oldest continually inhabited site in North America.
“The damage from the flood waters in October was so substantial that no one would have recognized this place the day after the flood,” reported park director Ron Coley. “And no one who saw the devastation in October would recognize the park today.”
Ironically, the park will reopen with A Celebration of Water theme for the late spring and summer months that will include several traveling exhibits, a children’s play, an outdoor sculpture exhibit and unveiling of two newly restored glass-bottom boats.
In addition, regular features such as the popular multigenerational nature tours and the endangered species exhibits will also be available to park visitors.
Participants on the nature tours utilize a kit full of tools, such as binoculars and microscopes, on a 90-minute guided tour of the park where they discover and uncover information about the unique ecosystem of this region. Tours include a ride on a glass-bottom boat and cost $6.50 for adults, $5.50 for seniors and $4.50 for children ages 4 to 15.
On April 10, Aquarena, in conjunction with the School of Fine Arts and Communication at SWT, will open an outdoor sculpture trail featuring the works of professional artists throughout the state, collegiate artists from a juried competition and a selection of works from students on the secondary and middle school level. The featured work of the exhibit will be a commissioned piece by renowned sculptor Isabel Farnsworth, who will also judge the collegiate competition.
Three public performances of the children’s play Cave Song, written by SWT playwright-in-residence Charles Pascoe and directed by J. Jay Jennings, will also be featured that weekend. Performance times are 1 and 3 p.m. on Saturday and 3 p.m. on Sunday. The performance will be staged in the Texana Village in the park.
Visitors to the park from March through Labor Day will be able to tour several traveling exhibits on display in the park.
On the Water’s Edge comes to Aquarena from the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science in Albuquerque. Chiefly a photo gallery-type venue, this exhibit presents the aesthetics and diversity of riparian areas.
A timely exhibit from the McAllen International Museum on Why Should We Care About the Weather will address some of the issues that surround weather-related disasters like the flood which hit the Central Texas area last fall.
Unique underwater presentations will be available to park visitors with POOLS, an exhibition of large transparent underwater images suspended from the ceilings inside the submerged submarine theatre, and Aquamirabilis, an underwater film of bodies in fluid motion. The water from the San Marcos Springs will make an exotic backdrop to the breath-taking images.
In the spirit of “natural beauty liberates creative thinking,” a total renovation of facilities on the property will provide a creative atmosphere for corporate retreats with accommodations for 200 or a romantic setting for wedding receptions.
“We’ve lost a little momentum due to the flood during this transition period of taking Aquarena from a theme park to an eco-tourism attraction,” said Coley, “but in less than three years we’ve gone from providing field trips for 7,000 school age children to more than 50,000 students a year and the focus of their visits has changed dramatically.”
Aquarena has gone from an end-of-the-school year play place to a curriculum based educational excursion under the direction of Margaret Russell, an informal science educator working with different facilities in Cental Texas.
Teachers receive a pre-visit study plan and materials which tie the class visit to Aquarena with the new curriculum mandates by the state legislature.
Russell, along with Murry Owens, Aquarena’s aquatic biologist, has assisted in staff development for the SWT student employees at the park as boat drivers, tour guides and retail workers. Training in the history of Texas and the San Marcos Springs and Edwards Aquifer is combined with the proper techniques of interpreting the ecosystem of the park.There is no admission charge to enter the park or view the exhibits. Park hours beginning March 1 are 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. For more information about Aquarena Center, call (512) 245-7575 or toll free 1-800-999-9767.