Meadows Center for Water and the Environment

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The Meadows Center for Water and the Environment
Q aquarena.jpg
Formation 1994
Legal status
Purpose Study, preservation, and presentation of freshwater ecology
Headquarters San Marcos, Texas, U.S.
Region served
United States
Executive director
Andrew Sansom

The Meadows Center for Water and the Environment, formerly Aquarena Center, is an educational center in San Marcos, Texas, dedicated to the preservation of the unique archeological and biological resources of Spring Lake. The mission of the Meadows Center for Water and the Environment is to develop and promote programs and techniques for ensuring sustainable water resources for human needs, ecosystem health and economic development. At Texas State University-San Marcos, the Meadows Center serves as an integrating mechanism for the university’s multidisciplinary expertise in aquatic resources. Texas State is home to a distinguished array of departments and research centers engaged in critical scholarly work on water management issues. The Meadows Center’s projects create new opportunities to disseminate this significant repository of knowledge and information to the community at large. The Meadows Center at Spring Lake Hall is further home to the Texas Stream Team, a volunteer program dedicated to monitoring the water quality of freshwater systems through the state. Aquarena Center was established in 1994 when Southwest Texas State University purchased land previously used as an amusement park, including Spring Lake, an artificial freshwater reservoir which contains several of the San Marcos Springs.


Texas Rivers Center. This converted hotel is now home to the Texas River Systems Institute

The San Marcos Springs are the headwaters of the San Marcos River. This site, where more than 200 springs bubble up from the Edwards Aquifer and discharge an average of 123 million US gallons (470,000 m3) of water daily, is one of the oldest continuously inhabited places in North America. Artifacts discovered in digs conducted from 1979 to 1982 date back 12,000 years.

A view of the San Marcos River downstream of Spring Lake
Antique glass bottomed boat tours are available daily and last about thirty minutes.

The first Europeans to visit the springs were probably Spanish explorers in 1689. The springs were an important stop on the Old San Antonio Road and the Chisholm Trail. In 1847, former Republic of Texas vice president Edward Burleson purchased the land surrounding the headwaters of the river and built a cabin on the hill overlooking the headwaters. Two years later Burleson built a dam just below the springs to power a mill; this dam, which created Spring Lake, still exists today. A.B. Rogers purchased the property in 1926 and his son, Paul, developed a hotel there in 1928 and introduced glass bottom boats on the lake.

Spring Lake has been visited by notable individuals including Robert E. Lee, Jay Gould, and Helen Miller Shepard because of its beauty.[1]

In the 1950s, construction of a submarine theater and large spillway at one end of the lake to produce a swimming pool led to the opening of Aquarena Springs, an amusement park, at the site in 1951. Other features of the park were the Alpine Swiss Sky Ride (a Von Roll skyride), an Intamin 220 foot Sky Spiral that moved vertically above the lake and rotated 360°, and "mermaid" performers that could be viewed from the submarine theater.[2] The park also included a coin-operated arcade in which human visitors would "compete" in games like Tic-tac-toe against chickens, whose "moves" in the game were determined by pecking lights which appeared only on the chicken's side of the machine. The chickens often won.

By far, the most popular attraction was "Ralph, the Famous Swimming Pig." Ralph swam in the "Underwater Show" performing tricks and his famous "swine dive" until the park closed. At its peak, Aquarena Springs attracted 250,000 visitors annually.

The Wetlands Boardwalk surrounds a shallow water habitat on Spring Lake

The center added a Wetlands Boardwalk in a shallow area of Spring Lake. The boardwalk, made of recycled plastic lumber, floats on the water and circles a marshy area that showcases the flora and fauna of a wetland ecosystem.

Aquarena Center has been designated as a "critical habitat," subject to the Endangered Species Act, because the springs are home to the fountain darter, the Texas Blind Salamander, the San Marcos Salamander, the San Marcos gambusia, and Texas Wild Rice. It is feared the San Marcos gambusia may be extinct as none have been seen since 1983.

Plans call for the removal of most of the old amusement park structures as funds become available. These include the submarine theater, Sky Spiral, and Swiss Sky Ride. However, the glass-bottomed boat tours will remain.


The Aquarena Springs Amusement Park was the actual location of the resort in the 1978 film Piranha, directed by Joe Dante.


  1. ^ Finty, Tom; Editorial Staff (1904). Texas Almanac and State Industrial Guide. Harvard University: Belo & Company. pp. 286–287. 
  2. ^ "Mermaid Theater." Popular Mechanics, June 1952, pp. 71-73.

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Coordinates: 29°53′35″N 97°55′53″W / 29.89304°N 97.93128°W / 29.89304; -97.93128