Scott Henize guides a tour under trees through the purgatory creek natural area.

The Working Hands Behind San Marcos Conservation Efforts

By Lea Mercado
Web Content Contributor

San Marcos is highly regarded by nature enthusiasts from all over the state, and with over 1,200 acres of natural area to maintain, local organizations devote their effort to conserving natural and native beauty.

According to Scott Henize, the San Marcos Greenbelt Alliance stewardship committee chair, the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in more visitors taking advantage of hiking trails and green spaces.

“With more traffic, there tends to be more erosion and trash to clean up,” said Henize. “What most people don’t realize is that these natural areas also serve as flood mitigation for our city, so a lot of this trash ends up flowing down into our San Marcos river, and eventually our water supply.”

The SMGA began in 1998 with a mission to protect the quality of life for San Marcos by conserving and maintaining natural areas and education. Consisting of only volunteers, most of the nonprofit’s support comes from grants, donations and membership dues from the community.

The SMGA volunteer trail crew performs bi-weekly cleanups, consisting of picking up litter, removing invasive vegetation and working on building projects. To restore the spaces to their most natural state, the crew also replants native vegetation so the areas can thrive.

Encountering significant rainfall yearly, the SMGA works closely with the Meadows Center for Water and the Environment as the work to maintain green spaces and the rivers intersect.

According to the Edwards Aquifer Website, in 1849, General Edward Burleson built a dam on the San Marcos River to operate a gristmill, resulting in the creation of Spring Lake.

“By creating that lake, there’s a lot of aquatic vegetation that’s native, but the normal flow of the river would disperse that vegetation,” said Rob Dussler, the chief education officer and director of Spring Lake operations. “But because of the lake, the habitat changed. In some sense, it created a space for these endangered species to live. If the lake wasn’t there, they wouldn’t be able to survive.”

Because Spring Lake maintains a temperature of 72 degrees year-round, the lake is not affected by the turnover process that inhibits native vegetation from growing. To protect the lake from becoming overgrown and unavailable to the community, the Meadows Center heavily relies on its volunteer divers to maintain the vegetation and protect endangered species such as the Texas Blind Salamander.

“People want to come and dive here,” Dussler said. “To find water with such clarity, you’d have to go to the Caribbean, so we have people who drive from Oklahoma just to volunteer. People feel a sense of camaraderie and stewardship as well.”

For volunteers within the community, the relationship between humans and nature is one of reciprocation. Nature provides many different resources, and the way to give back is by becoming involved and nurturing the natural areas that hold significant importance to the community.

Featured Image by Lea Mercado

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