Restoration of the Spring Lake peninsula at the headwaters of the San Marcos River has dramatically changed the site’s outside creative education-play scenario and access to open spaces for school groups. To maintain and increase the educational school group tours, new programs are being developed, prototyped, and tested with support of the H2O project.
Improvements to facilities to provide a safe, enjoyable and educational experience for students are underway. Only by making improvements, including integration of technology into instruction for some grade levels, will Spring Lake education programs remain attractive to teachers and students. Only by having educational programs remain attractive to teachers will the River Systems Institute continue to receive school tour groups, as school districts continue to face fiscal challenges. There is no other choice.
Spring Lake and surrounding areas available for student education, such as the wetlands boardwalk, the Spring Lake Natural Area, and the green adjacent to the tour boat dock provide what is truly an outdoor classroom that can assume a position on the front lines of battling nature-deficit.
On the Green
The National Parks and Recreation Association has identified nature-deficit disorder, or the lack of children getting outdoors to play, as one of the critical trends of our time. Instructors at Aquarena have embraced the concept of creative play to engage students in hands-on science learning.
The outdoor green space at Aquarena has been a prime location for activities that have involved students in modeling food chains, demonstrating scientific processes and methods, conducting field investigations, learning about Native Americans and the history of San Marcos, and exploring water conservation.
Without a green space directly adjacent to Spring Lake, educational programs would not have been as effective and it is unlikely as many school districts would have chosen Spring Lake as a site for student field trips.
Restoration of the Spring Lake peninsula has eliminated access to the green space formerly used by students. However, an alternative green space is available and must be improved to accommodate student use.
The green space located where the old Aquarena swimming pool was located will serve as the new outdoor education and play area. This will also be an area from which to stage field trips to the wetlands boardwalk and to the Spring Lake Natural Area.
Here are a few of the activities most popular among teachers that instructors wish to continue on the new green, with its proximity to the water’s edge.
- Water Bug Picking — a water sampling activity that is adaptable for all ages.
- All the Water in the World — a water cycle activity.
- The Water Conservation Game – instructing students about conserving water.
- Cattail Braiding — a Native American activity that teaches about plants and wetlands habitats.
- The Great Frog Race — About pollution prevention.
- Frog Food Chain Tag – a wetlands habitat activity.
The new green needs to be improved to accommodate classes. Most critical is addressing safety and security issues.
Low fencing will be placed around the perimeter of the green. Fencing exists along the side nearest the water and adjacent to the TRC, but there is no fencing separating the parking lot and the area. Teachers will insist that a barrier between the education-play area be reasonably secured from traffic.
The lawn will be maintained to ensure the area remains usable, e.g., grass height maintained, grass itself maintained to avoid muddy areas.
A roofed shelter large enough to hold and seat a 30-person class is needed to support instructional programs. The green is not shaded and there is no ready shelter. Teachers insist classes not be separated and that there be a means to protect students from excessive sun and a place for students to get out of the rain. A low-cost semi-temporary shelter can address thisneed.
The Spring Lake Natural Area Experience
The “Spring Lake Natural Area” is the 251-acre hillside protected area adjacent to Spring Lake and the Texas Rivers Center. This area provides a unique opportunity to develop new and innovative outside educational programs focusing directly on the function of sinks and open areas in recharge of the aquifers that create the clear-water springs ofCentral Texas.
Proposed instruction will directly address TEKSS teaching requirements.
Student groups (or groups of adult visitors) will be shuttled along a route, from Spring Lake to the top of the Natural Area. Along the way, visitors will learn about the importance of open space on aquifer recharge, as well as learn about the history of the area, geology, wildlife, and other attributes of the Natural Area. Instruction along the route would also use new prototype mobile technologies to provide a distinctive path of discovery of watersheds, aquifers, and headwaters.
Here are a few of the field-oriented instructional opportunities that will be possible using the Natural Area.
- Observation of the beginnings of a watershed and why watersheds are important.
- Intensive observation of what allows water to flow into the aquifer and why that is important.
- Observation of how humans impact watersheds.
- Observation of wildlife and other organisms that live in the uplands that feedSpringLake.
Time, distance, and typical class size demand use of a means to transport students to educational way-points along the Natural Area’s tour route. Transportation will enable tours to proceed in a timely fashion, also allowing groups to experience the glass bottom boat tour, and visit the TRC Discovery Room and aquariums.
A “green” tour vehicle large enough to accommodate up to 12 passengers is recommended. This will also allow for a roving Wi-Fi base (if necessary), accommodation of physically-challenged visitors, and provide room for storage and transport of field and hi-tech equipment.
This field tour is depicted on the accompanying illustration.
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H2O (Headwaters to Ocean) is a cooperative project sponsored by the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, The Meadows Center for Water and the Environment at Texas State University and funding partner, the Ewing Halsell Foundation which supports the project H2O. H2O is an experiential, technology-enhanced education program focused on water, from headwaters to the ocean (http://www.water-texas.org)