by Morgan Montalvo
Texas State University's Meadows Center for Water and the Environment in San Marcos has restored and upgraded a second of its fleet of five glass-bottom boats used for science education and eco-tourism, News Radio 1200 WOAI reports.
Meadows Center workers re-christened and launched "Boat 1963" back onto Spring Lake - headwaters for the environmentally sensitive San Marcos River - during a Thursday ceremony. Restoration of the boats began in 2000 in stages. A sister vessel about two years ago was equipped with an improved hull similar to the type used for 1963's makeover.
Miranda Wait with the Meadows Center says the facility's glass-bottom boats once were popular attractions when the lake was the site of the Aquarena Springs aquatic theme park. Texas State University acquired Aquarena, which hosted millions of visitors from 1951 to 1994, as part of a mid-1990s major school expansion.
"I guarantee that these boats will run for a really long time," says Wait. "The original boats were wood hulls, and so we've been replacing them slowly with fiberglass hulls.
"They're costly, so we can only do one every so often," she says, referring to Boat 1963's 18-month, $165,000 restoration and improvements, which require less maintenance but preserve the vessel's vintage above-the-waterline appearance.
Wait says while the Meadows Center continues to offer rides to tourists, the facility's main focus now is on education and hosts science field trips throughout the year.
"We have the fountain darter, which is a little fish that doesn't have a swim bladder, San Marcos Salamander, underneath us in the aquifer we have the Texas Blind Salamander," Wait says, referring to some of the ecosystem's rarest and threatened organisms. "Other fish and turtles that you'll see, we have river cooters, we have soft-shell turtles, snapping turtles, huge bass."
Spring Lake, she says, serves both as a "living laboratory" and as a hydrometer for the Edwards Aquifer.
"This lake is Edwards Aquifer-fed so, if this lake isn't here, that means they don't have any more drinking water in San Antonio," Wait says. "The Edwards Aquifer provides drinking water for over 10 million people.
Wait says the Meadows Center's mission is to ensure clean and adequate drinking water for future generations through awareness and close-up observation of a critical habitat.
"Our goal for the education programs here is to inspire and educate as many people as we can, and get them interested and excited about water. Water is one of our most limited resources," says Wait.
"We're really lucky that we have basically the drinking water source of San Antonio. They can see it right here.
"It's a really cool educational tool," Wait adds.
The Meadows Center for Water and the Environment is open daily 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
PHOTO: Miranda Wait with Texas State University's Meadows Center for Water and the Environment says a second glass-bottom boat restoration will allow the facility to educate more visitors about preserving the Edwards Aquifer and its endangered species. Photo by Morgan Montalvo