San Marcos’ Spring Lake may Apply Heritage Status

Spring Lake, the iconic pool fed by more than 200 springs, may meet the criteria to be eligible for a World Heritage Site designation, Texas State University officials and residents say. The lake is believed to be one of the longest continually inhabited sites in North America. Andrew Sansom, executive director of the Texas State River Systems Institute, said spear points provide archaeological evidence that humans have lived in the area surrounding Spring Lake for more than 12,000 years.

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San Marcos' Spring Lake

San Marcos Spring LakeThat history, along with the lake's spiritual importance to American Indians and early Spanish settlers, is among the reasons why it could deserve the World Heritage designation from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, Sansom and other proponents said. "I don't think there's another university in the world that has a resource like this on its campus," Sansom said.

Texas State purchased the lake and surrounding land in 1994 and has been restoring it. This year, workers removed some of the last remnants of the Aquarena Springs resort and amusement park, such as the submarine theater, that once centered on the lake.

UNESCO developed the World Heritage status in an effort to catalog, name and conserve sites the organization deems culturally or naturally important to humanity. Examples include the Statue of Liberty and Grand Canyon National Park, the first of 21 designated sites in the U.S.

Spring Lake San Marcos

Jon Lohse, director of the Texas State Center for Archaeological Studies, said the designation would bring worldwide attention to local water conservation questions.

But Lohse said even though Spring Lake meets at least half of the 10 selection criteria, which include containing important biologically diverse natural habitats and bearing a unique testimony to a cultural tradition, an application for the designation is probably years away.

"Not a lot has been done," he said. "The university is still learning how to manage the property and recognizing the kind of responsibility that comes with ownership."

Lohse, who gave a presentation earlier this year about what the World Heritage Site designation would mean for Spring Lake and the city of San Marcos, said there have been many misconceptions surrounding the designation.

"UNESCO will not take over (Spring Lake)," Lohse said, adding that Texas State will continue to protect and manage Spring Lake regardless of any government designations.

Recently, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department designated Spring Lake and the upper 3.8 miles of the San Marcos River headwaters as critical habitat for eight endangered species, such as the Texas blind salamander and Texas wild rice.

For San Marcos resident Gena Fleming, Spring Lake holds a spiritual and cultural significance.

"There's been more emphasis of late to cultural significance," Fleming said. "It's a new world view. In order to nourish that we need to give (Spring Lake) the focus it's due."

She attended Lohse's presentation in March as a member of the San Marcos grass-roots organization Sacred Springs Alliance, which works toward preserving the lake and the land that surrounds it.

Sacred Springs Alliance believes the World Heritage Site designation may help protect Spring Lake and sustain the human connection to the site, Fleming said.

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