Descending beneath the surface of Spring Lake reveals both the history and beauty of the Texas Hill Country. As the headwaters for the San Marcos River, this lake, unlike other lakes of Central Texas, is formed from the flow of over 200 natural springs. Throughout its history, this valuable source of water has attracted both man and animal alike. These springs may even be the oldest continually inhabited site in North America with Paleo Indian artifacts dating back 12,000 years.
Beginning in the 1940's, glass-bottomed boats conveyed tourists over the lake and provided sightseers a glimpse beneath its surface and a view of the springs bubbling upwards through the sand. The lake can be compared to famous Italian Lakes because of its pristine beauty and unscathed natural and historical charm. By the 1950's an underwater theater installed with glass windows allowed spectators to view an underwater stage where "Aquamaids" and "Mermen" performed.
Texas State University (TSU) purchased the property in 1994 and began work to restore these wetlands back to their natural state. Future plans include a River Center where students, divers, researchers and photographers can learn, train and/ or just reflect in the cool crisp waters. This acquisition enabled Texas State to preserve an important site while opening an underwater classroom and providing other research possibilities.
Spring Lake occupies 90 acres and with its clear spring water has grown to be a haven for Central Texas scuba divers. With 30 to 40 feet of visibility and a constant 72 degree temperature, divers from all over the Hill Country come here to volunteer their time and further their understanding of this fragile ecosystem. Since several threatened or endangered species; including the Texas Blind Salamander, Fountain Darter and Texas Wild Rice, call these waters home, each diver must undergo an orientation course before being allowed entry. Once the course is complete, volunteer divers can assist staff at the Aquarena Springs Center with projects that follow their Habitat Management Plan.
cream of wheat
Divers descending into the lake still pass through the remains of the long forgotten stage. As each volunteer leaves the theatre, the percolation of the springs pushes through the bed of sand becomes more evident. One area, nicknamed "cream of wheat" because of the sheer number of eruptions creating a creamy boiling appearance, is a surreal site. Your hand quickly sinks as if no lake bed exists at all. With depths of no more than 21 feet this beautiful underwater world provides divers with extended bottom time to enjoy the peace and tranquillity that the Aquarena Center is trying to maintain.
Some recreational scuba classes are allowed to conduct certification courses in Spring Lake but generally recreational divers are not permitted without first completing the Diving for Science orientation course. Even after the course is complete, there may be periods when volunteers are not needed in the lake. At such times volunteers can help with the aquarium at the center or with needed repairs to the dive lockers or diving area.
Today, Spring Lake is under-going a complete face lift, albeit little by little. Several buildings surrounding the lake have been destroyed or renovated. The entire area is being prepared for the wetlands project and the protection of the endangered species found only in the San Marcos River.
The Aquarena Center is operated by Southwest Texas State University's Continuing Education Department. To find out more about the "Diving for Science" program or to enroll in the Scientific Diver course, email the scientific diving officer or call (512) 245-9769. You can also go to the center's web site. The cost of the course is $220 and is well worth the expense.
The Aquarena Springs Center is about 28 miles (45 km) south of Austin in San Marcos, Texas. Take Exit 206 off Interstate 35 and travel west on Aquarena Springs Dr about two miles (3.2 km). The center is open seven days a week, but hours vary seasonally. The center is closed Christmas week and the first week of the New Year. In addition to the glass-bottom boat tours, a variety of educational tours and field trip programs are offered. For more information, call (512) 245-7540.