By Marissa Castro
The state of Texas is the second largest state in the United States of America due to its size and geologic features. With its diverse landscapes such as mountains, rivers, hills and variety of vegetation it is clear to see why such large communities exist here. As Texas continues its dramatic growth, our natural areas are facing significant stress, threatening the beauty, character and rural heritage of the lone star state.
According to the Texas Monthly Daily post our very own San Marcos, Texas is actually the fastest growing city in the country, with its official 2012 census population of 50,001, we are growing at a staggering rate of eight percent per year. With that growth comes new development, and that development may harm our community. In order to focus on the protection of our community we must learn what we are protecting in the first place, Helping with that is San Marcos very own Nature center, which serves as an educational branch to the public. Nature center coordinator, Jenna Winters, believes that the community should be more aware and involved with the protection of our environment.
“As a biologist yes, absolutely, I think we are in danger of losing what makes this place special, it always an edged sword,” Winters said. “On one hand its great that so many people are discovering San Marcos and so many people are moving here but we need to be very careful with our developmental or we are going to lose what makes this place special.”
Central Texas, also known as hill country, is popular for its eastern portion of the Edwards Plateau, notable natural springs and rugged hills in which San Marcos lays upon. San Marcos Nature Center naturalist, Lauren Broddrick, believes that what keeps San Marcos unique from other cities is its beautiful river.
“The San Marcos ecosystem is really unique,” Broddrick said. “What gives it its uniqueness is its river. The river itself houses endangered species that are found no where else but in San Marcos. We’re kind of in between the Edwards plateau and the Blackland Prairie, so we get a unique version. We get the limestone, the hard limestone, we get the aquifer beneath us from the plateau, and with the prairie we get the rich dark dirt. We get a mix of both of the wildlife. We’re in the middle of the central flyways, so we get the flyway migration of birds and butterflies; we get basically all of Texas foream and fawn but minus the coastal and the deep west.”
San Marcos Nature Center Staff Member and Naturalist, Victor Ma believes that awareness is the first step to taking control in preserving the environment. Ma talked about his first hand experience working on the San Marcos river and how being unaware really affects it.
“We definitely should have more awareness,” Ma said. “I mean we do a lot of awareness but definitely like I’ve worked on the river before and the amount of people that just flood that river is crazy. If they knew more about how to treat the river and what they should and shouldn’t do it would just make a world of a difference. The amount of litter and trash that go into that river are from people outside San Marcos and as well as people that live in San Marcos. If there was more awareness on how we affect the river and then how the river affects our environment I think it would make a world of a difference.”
Although each worker has their official title at the Nature Center, every staff member and volunteer work as a whole with no set positions. They all pitch in when help is needed and provide the grounds with nurture and care. The Nature Center sits on of two acres of land providing the public with bountiful gardens, a butterfly house, native plant nurseries, an indoor facility filled with fish tanks, frogs, lizards, spiders and even a sixty pound African tortoise named Mo. The facility is able to provide this experience to the public thanks to Winters return in 2010, who explained the history of the Nature Center.
“The center opened its doors in December of 2000,” Winters said. “Originally it was called the Greenhouse Interpretive Center because the building we are in right now actually used to be the greenhouse on the grounds of the Texas states governors mansion. But in 2002 I think it was, I actually worked here then as well as another co-worker, Julie King, renamed it. People did not understand what it was and after going through, I don’t know how many different variations, names, acronyms, we finally decided to call it what it is: the San Marcos Nature Center.”
In 2010, the Nature Center recorded a total of 3,571 visitors and just last year they finished with 14,600 visitors. That is over a 300% increase over the last three years. As the popularity of the center increases, staff members gather to come up with events throughout the year no matter the season. Events such as summer camps, plant sales, birthday parties and special occasions provide educational and informational fun for both children and adults.
As well as being a naturalist, Broddrick is also the administrator of the educational and environmental programs. The most popular programs are their summer camps for children ages five to ten. Listen as Broddrick provides us with more information on each camp.
“We have mayhem week basically, its physics and chemistry experiments, its messy but this is a fun place you can get messy, Broddrick said. “We also have Fin and Feather Camp which is heavily biology focused. We focus on birds and fish which there is a whole bunch of unique species here in San Marcos, so its pretty fitting. We also have our River Rat Camp which is our standard summer camp that kind of combines all of the different camps together as well as we had a Hatchling Camp which was aimed for the younger kids. Wild Times in Texas, which focuses on the natural history of this area, we focus a lot on the archeology the anthropology of this area. As well as Bug Off, which is about bugs. All About Bugs, we have our mid summer magic one, which is right before our mid summer celebration, that kids get to help decorate, and they get to make magical themed fairies, elves trolls, all that fun stuff.”
Their fan base is big and their facebook rating is 5 out of 5, and all the fun doesn’t stop with the kids. One thing that Winters explains that adds to their popularity is a evidenced pattern, that is like a trickling up effect. She says that if you educate the kids, the parents become educated through their kids and both become eager to learn more. This is why nature center provided events such as the native plant sales. Winters tells us more on the native plant sales and how they are beneficial to our community.
“We sell native plants to the community, and that’s something that has really grown over the past couple of years,” Winter said. Our plant sales have gotten really big from where they started. We educate people on about native plants, and why its important to use native plants. I don’t think you can live in Texas right now and not realize we are in a drought. We talk about it all the time everyone hears about it, and native plants are a really big benefit. They are meant to live in Texas, they can handle our droughts, they can handle our hot summers, and they don’t need to be watered all the time. So we really try to encourage people to plant natives and the garden, you know its also better for the homeowners too because you are not having to replace your plants every year because they die. You can actually have stuff that you can grow and live.”
In addition to the plant sales, another event they have upcoming this fall is the fourth annual “Last Minute Market”, which is done on the last Saturday before Christmas. The Nature Center encourages creative residents to set up shop either inside or outside their grounds for a craft show where beginner or experienced vendors can sell and showcase their items. Though the Last Minute Market is said to be growing more and more each and every year, their biggest event of the year is the annual Nature Center Creature Crawl, that happens every October. This year the Nature Center is covered in Halloween decorations, candy and pictures of spooky spiders. Winters explains more on the event.
“This year is spectacular spiders so everything we are doing is spider oriented and with same that we try to do with all of our events is you know its gonna be a lot of fun, Winters said. “There’s gonna be story time for the kids, there’s face painting, there’s tarot card reading, there’s concessions. But we also have environmental education built into everything we do, so as you’re walking through our gardens tomorrow there will be a lot of really cool spider pictures and facts about spiders and so we want people to learn. We want people to have a good time while they’re learning. The main part about the Creature Crawl is we take all of our animals outside, and so all throughout the garden will be the tables and the kids come trick-or-treat from the animals.”
Needless to say, the Nature Center keeps busy year round with more events including classes on composting and gardening. Their passion for the environment is something they hope that other in the community hope to develop. During the interview, Broddrick mentioned that to truly be a part of our community, you have to know about it. San Marcos has a huge history and is one of the longest continuously habituated places in North America. To be part of the community and to be able to know how to preserve our beautiful environment, you must know what San Marcos is really all about.
If you or someone you know are interested in visiting the San Marcos Nature Center, it is located on 430 Riverside Drive, next to the Tourist Info Center on the access road of interstate 35 south. Admission is free and is open from Monday through Saturday from 10 am to 5pm. Volunteers are always welcomed and you can also enjoy nature walks on the grounds after hours.
And remember its never too late to start preserving and learning about our land.