San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

December 21st, 2010
City plans $3M nature center at Purgatory Creek

122110purgatoryBy SEAN BATURA
News Reporter

The City of San Marcos is planning to build a new multi-million dollar nature center in the Purgatory Creek Natural Area, near the Wonder World Drive extension.

The city has $3 million available for the facility, though councilmembers have yet to authorize any expenditures related to the project.

The city is negotiating a contract with Brown Reynolds Watford to design the nature center. Brown Reynolds Watford has offices in Dallas, College Station, Houston, and San Francisco.

The $3 million already available for the nature center includes $1.6 million in county parks bond funds matched to $1.4 million in city dollars. The $1.6 million was among the $3.1 million county commissioners awarded to the city in July 2008 from a $30 million parks bond passed by Hays County voters in 2007. County commissioners finished allocating all but the crumbs from that bond earlier this month.

Because a preliminary design for the nature center may not be available for another six months, city officials said it is too early to know what the new facility will look like and how big it will be. Officials have yet to choose a name for the nature center.

The nature center will hold educational and recreational activities and programs for people of all ages. The facility may be equipped to host conferences, meetings, and retreats. Activities for youth may include summer camps, field trips, indoor and outdoor classes, multimedia presentations, and wildlife displays.

“We’ll keep our reptile exhibits (there),” said City of San Marcos Watershed Protection Manager Melani Howard. “We’ll have separate housing for the different exhibits. Those are some of the ideas we have. Of course, once we get the architect hired, we’ll expand that a lot.”

City of San Marcos Grants Administrator Richard Salmon said full build-out of the nature center may occur after multiple phases and take 10 years. Salmon said the city will seek to involve members of the public in designing the nature center.

“It really depends on what we come up with that the public wants, what we want to put out there,” Salmon said. “And if it turns out to be $5 million, then we might just do the first $3 million of it and try to raise money for the remaining parts of it.”

Salmon said the current site proposed for the nature center is about 200 yards from the new portion of Wonder World Drive that passes through the Purgatory Creek Natural Area. The Purgatory Creek Natural Area comprises about 463 acres of Edwards Aquifer recharge land, which Howard said will provide children with an “outdoor classroom” experience. Howard said the city chose the Purgatory Creek Natural Area as the location for the nature center because it is the city’s largest green space.

“So we’d like to put it out where we have the most land, for the kids,” Howard said.

Howard said she and her colleagues would like the nature center to be similar to McKinney Roughs Nature Park located 13 miles east of Austin-Bergstrom International Airport.

The McKinney Roughs Nature Park, which advertises facilities for meetings, conferences, workshops and retreats, features a large, divisible meeting room for up to 120 people, and a kitchen area. The park also has a catered dining hall that accommodates 250 people and features three dormitories capable of housing 128 guests.

“We like their layout,” Howard said. “They have a big meeting hall, great audio/visual. We’ll have classrooms and offices.”

McKinney Roughs Nature Park offers guided hiking and tours, summer camps for children of various age groups, and a challenge course used in team-building activities. The park offers day or multi-day natural science programs tailored to subjects such as land stewardship, wildlife conservation, recreation, astronomy, water conservation, and renewable energy. The parks is operated by the Lower Colorado River Authority.

Salmon said the nature center will be Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified, and will likely feature building orientation and shading optimized for renewable energy systems such as solar arrays and wind turbines. Salmon said the nature center’s location on the aquifer recharge zone means some educational programs offered there will be related to water quality/quantity preservation.

Efforts are underway to secure a U.S. Fish and Wildlife grant to purchase 589 undeveloped acres adjacent to the Purgatory Creek Natural Area. The city may acquire the additional acreage within three years and add it to the green space.

Salmon said one architectural concept he and his colleagues are considering for the nature center is the juxtaposition of old and new — creating buildings with an antique look while using advanced, energy-efficient construction materials.

Howard said people will always be able to access the Purgatory Creek Natural Area free of charge, though there will be fees for some programs offered at the nature center.

Howard said the city’s current nature center at 430 Riverside Drive will remain in operation after the new facility is constructed. Howard said the old nature center will serve as a trail head for the parks and paths along the San Marcos River, featuring numerous maps and explanatory pictures. The old nature center may offer meeting spaces and recreational equipment for rent, Howard said.

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9 thoughts on “City plans $3M nature center at Purgatory Creek

  1. My knee-jerk reaction is that this is a waste of money. I seem to recall the multi-million dollar bond package was titled Parks & Open Space – Parks being the first word. How many pieces of playground equipment have we bought? How about picnic tables, barbeque grills or other improvements associated with the way the majority of citizens use a park? I’m about open-spaced to death. Not only will this building eat up the rest of the bond money, it will have tremendous ongoing operating costs. We need some neighborhood parks as alternatives to people coming to Rio Vista. As to McKinney Roughs, correct me, but isn’t that funded by LCRA?

  2. I’m torn. $3 million is a lot of money, especially if it does not get us a completed project, and/or if it could have been used for more land or basic improvements like you listed.

    Still, the McKinney Roughs facilities look pretty nice.

  3. How much of a footprint would a structure of this scope need, including parking space and access roads? Would access be from Wonder World Drive or Bishop+Prospect?

  4. Too bad open space can’t just be left as open space. When did being outdoors become an activity that needed a middle man, a climate controlled building or how-to steps? Why does there need to be an ‘educational, organized hike’ or ‘an outdoor classroom’? Just go to the park, stay on the trail and enjoy yourself.

    Bob- Where is all this open space that’s killing you?

  5. Hugh – It’s killing me in that that seems to be all we spend our parks money on lately. I like your comment and agree 100%. When I was a kid our parents said “go down to the woods, find something to do and don’t come back til dark”. I’m surprised this story isn’t getting more comments; it’s a boatload of money and I hate to say, this is the first I’m hearing of it. Sounds like a done deal. I guess it’s my fault for not being more engaged.

  6. By my count about $18 million went to Open Spaces, and the rest to some type of parks. Unfortunately a good portion of the $12 million went to athletic fields, which although I support I don’t think that was the intention of the bond. I think $18 million is fairly balanced, the Jacobs Well purchase seemed a little sketchy to me though. I agree that 3 million could buy a lot of recharge zone land, but then the city couldn’t hire a consultant for that, which they seem to need in order to spend money.

  7. Pingback: QUOTE CORNER - San Marcos Local News

  8. “”We’ll keep our reptile exhibits (there),” said City of San Marcos Watershed Protection Manager Melanie Howard.”

    Why does the city have reptile exhibits? Use the $3 million for trail improvements or parking.

  9. I do agree that there are a million other good uses for this money (isn’t there always?) but in order for people (and kids) to fully appreciate the greenspaces we have, they must first be educated on why it’s important that we have this land, why we shouldn’t build on it, what animals occupy it, etc. That’s what an educational nature center brings to the equation…times have changed and sadly kids aren’t forced to go outside anymore and don’t appreciate the value of the great outdoors. Alot of kids don’t get any sort of environmental education (especially on a local level) except for when they take field trips to places like Aquarena Center and the Nature Center. Of course WE appreciate these open spaces and explore them, but will the next generation? I think spending money on education like this is the only way future generations will care to preserve what we have set aside…I see it as a sort of investment and I’m glad that it is a priority for the city as well.

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