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Reaching Out beyond the Ivory Towers

Williamson, Paula S. [1].

The Wetlands Project: A vision of environmental stewardship becomes a reality.

In 1994 Texas State University-San Marcos purchased Aquarena Springs, a theme park famous for Ralph the Swimming Pig. The name was changed to Aquarena Center to reflect the university's mission to transform the site into an environmental education center. Aquarena includes the headwaters of the San Marcos River. Nearly 200 springs erupting from the Edwards Aquifer supply 150 million gallons of water to the river each day. A downstream dam forms Spring Lake; this 20-acre lake is clear and thermally constant. The lake and river ecosystem is biologically diverse and supports several endangered species, including Texas wild rice. Recognizing the setting is ideal for educating university students, school children and the public about environmental issues, the Biology Department initiated the Wetlands Project to create an outdoor classroom. Project goals and themes were developed with substantial input from state teachers, community leaders, and numerous partners. With $837,000 of funding secured from state and federal agencies and private foundations, our vision is now a reality. A major goal was developing the Wetlands Walk, an interpretive boardwalk and trail system that allows visitors to explore wetlands ecology through interpretive signage and exhibits. The walk allows visitation to the wetlands while protecting the fragile ecosystem. Water is a critical issue in Central Texas and conservation of this limited resource requires an informed public. Annually the walk is visited by hundreds of university students and over 15,000 school children on class field trips; additionally it draws 250,000 tourists. The second goal is to offer numerous opportunities for hands-on learning. One example is learning about invasive species biology by assisting in volunteer-based wetlands restoration that includes removal of exotic water hyacinths and elephant ears. The ecosystem benefits through restoration efforts that improve native wildlife habitat and through heightened public awareness of water issues and conservation.

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1 - Texas State University, Department of Biology, 601 University Drive, San Marcos, Texas, 78666, USA

environmental education
outdoor classroom
wetlands ecology
wetlands restoration
Invasive Species.

Presentation Type: Education Forum Session:Informational Session
Session: F 4c-1
Location: 410/Hilton
Date: Saturday, August 13th, 2005
Time: 1:30 PM
Abstract ID:428

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