In honor of the Day of the Dead this week, I give homage not to a person I've lost this year, but to a place. I think now would be a good time to finally post something I've been meaning to for months now but haven't gotten around to it. I'm posting my goodbye to Aquarena Springs, the Texas landmark and nostalgic childhood memory that's being demolished this year to be made into a nature preserve.
Aquarena Springs was this funny little amusement park that opened in the 1940's at the headwaters of the San Marcos River. In the 1980's it became a staple of my childhood road trips. We didn't have a lot of money growing up, so this was pretty much the best we had for a "summer vacation" back then, a trip from the Dallas suburbs where I grew up, down to San Antonio, or maybe even the coast (Galveston or Corpus Christi), always stopping first in San Marcos for a day at Aquarena Springs. It was pure 50's kitsch, but as a little kid I didn't care. Little kids are really impressed by things like Ralph the Swimming Pig, the Submarine Theater with the Mermaid Shows, the Swiss Sky Ride, and the only thing that's surviving the demolition, the Glass-Bottomed Boats.
But by the 1990's the park was struggling, unable to compete with things like Fiesta Texas, so it was sold to Texas State University, and TSU decided to turn it into a nature center. (I'm tempted to say a little something here about how inconsistent that seems with the fact that they almost built a huge conference center and hotel over Spring Lake Preserve right behind there, but I'll skip that for now.) I've got mixed feelings about the whole thing. Of course I think nature preserves are great, and this is an ecologically important area. But I still wonder, do they really have to demolish everything? I found out this past summer that they're going to bulldoze all the old buildings left over from the amusement park (after leaving them to rot and decay since they acquired the property). I don't see how their presence harms the river or the wildlife, and would have preferred them to be kept as historical monuments, as something to show the history of the place. After all, when I moved to San Marcos in 2006 and told people where I was moving to, those who had even heard of San Marcos at all would say, "Oh yeah, that place with Aquarena Springs! Hey, do they still do those swimming pig shows?" and I'd have to tell them no, they went out of business a decade ago, but at least then we could still go to the place itself and see the old buildings, even if TSU didn't care about what it meant to us.
Really, that's the first thing a lot of people thought of when they thought of San Marcos. Not Texas State, not the Outlet Mall, not the things that the City of San Marcos or Texas State University seems to think is important about this town. No, the swimming pig was our real claim to fame, embarrassing as that may be to some people, and now almost every trace of the old amusement park is being taken away.
In July I got a chance to go down there and take photos of everything before it was destroyed. I'm glad I did that because I heard that now it's completely fenced off for the demolition.
This is painted on a window on the side of what they turned into an aquarium. "ENDENGERED SPECIES OF THE SAN MARCOS RIVER". I'm real tempted to make a comment here about the educational quality of Texas State University, but I will resist.
Sarcasm aside, I heard a rumor that they actually want to expand this golf course. Ugh! I hope that's not true. In my opinion, Texas shouldn't even have any golf courses at all. Wherever golf was invented, they obviously had a lot more water there than we have here. I wonder how much water the golf course uses to keep their grass green compared to how much I use to grow my vegetable garden.
Goodbye Aquarena Springs. A part of my childhood now lives only in my memory, and the memories of everyone else who stopped over there on childhood road trips for those 50 years.