San Marcos River Linear State Park Proposal



The problem

There are way too many people using the San Marcos River as a “party place” - a place to get very drunk and behave accordingly.  

Drinking games are common: shotgunning (making a hole in a beer can, then popping the top and drinking the beer as fast as possible -  followed by spiking the can on the gravel bar, where it remains) slapping the bag (slapping a plastic bag of wine, which has been removed from the cardboard box it came in, and then drinking from the spout) and even butt chugging (which I won’t explain here).

Due to the difficulties of accessing the river (and the fact that the parties are spread out over 90 miles of river)  peace officers generally cannot get to the hundreds of individual parties taking place.  So, fights are common, and often they involve landowners trying to access the river adjacent to their property.

Water and alcohol don’t mix (talking here about river recreation and drunkenness) so accidents and deaths are becoming way too common.  And, of course, the drunks have to drive home after the party, so local roads are not safe in the afternoon.

And perhaps the saddest result of all this drinking is that kids and families cannot come to the river when the parties are happening (which is pretty much any afternoon, all summer long).

While cities have more control over the problem than counties (cities can at least pass can bans, prohibit loud music, hire police and clean up crews (kinda like having to hire bouncers and maids) they still don’t have the authority to prohibit the public consumption of alcohol.  Only the state of Texas has that authority.  So cities can prohibit alcohol in their city parks, but they have to allow folks to drink in the river.  So, guess where the cans end up.  And keep in mind that you end up with drunks (and all the problems they cause) in your city parks.

Counties have almost no authority to control the parties.  And precious little resources to police them or clean up after them.

The Solution

The San Marcos River is a navigable river with a state owned streambed.  That means that the state of Texas owns the river - both the water in the river and the land under it (and up to the gradient boundary on the sides of the river).

That means that the state of Texas is responsible for controlling the parties and for the protection of the river.  

Several agencies are involved in that task.  For instance, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality is assigned the duty of protecting the water quality and maintaining minimum streamflows.  

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department is responsible for protecting our natural resources.  Section 12.0011 of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Code  states:  “RESOURCE PROTECTION.  (a)  The department is the state agency with primary responsibility for protecting the state's fish and wildlife resources.”

TPWD is also responsible for the public safety of people recreating on Texas rivers and the landowners along the banks.  Title 4, chapter 31 of the Texas Parks and wildlife code reads: “CHAPTER 31. WATER SAFETYSec. 31.002.  STATE POLICY.  It is the duty of this state to promote recreational water safety for persons and property in and connected with the use of all recreational water facilities in the state, to promote safety in the operation and equipment of facilities, and to promote uniformity of laws relating to water safety.”

It is not healthy for the river when thousands of people walk down the river holding onto their inner tubes (because they are too drunk to float on them).  In fact, it is not healthy for thousands of people to urinate in the river the river in a single afternoon, especially when the river flow is low.  That amount of phosphorus and nitrogen is not good for the river.

It is not safe for people to float the river in an intoxicated state. The river is often a difficult place to access for police and EMS personnel.  And disputes between drunk tubers and landowners can get out of hand in a hurry. 

In 2014 a solution to the problems on the San Marcos River was presented to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission at their annual public hearing: they could declare the San Marcos River to be a linear state park.  Under state park rules, there would be no public consumption of alcohol.  Furthermore, the TPWD could then study the effect of overuse of the river and begin regulating the number of people that concessionaires could put on the river.

The legal team at TPWD responded that only the Texas legislature could create a state park.  But, in reality, that very year (2014) without a legislative session taking place, TPWD created Powderhorn Ranch state park with state land purchased with British Petroleum money from the Deep Water Horizons settlement.  You can read about the creation of that state park here:

So, since the TPWD can create a state park without action by the Texas legislature, and since the Texas legislature has refused to act,

we are, once again, asking the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commissioners to make the San Marcos River into a linear state park.

And, since there are problems occurring along the entire length of the San Marcos River, we are proposing that all 90 miles of the river be protected.

Other states have linear state parks, and they have been very effective in protecting their rivers.  Be sure to look at the youtube video regarding the Ichetucknee River in Florida.

Our hope is that this new state park can incorporate the entire San Marcos River, from the TPWD Rivers Center at the San Marcos Springs to the TPWD paddling trail in Gonzales.  It will include two currently exiting state parks (John Stokes Park in San Marcos and Palmetto State Park near Luling) two paddling trials (Luling and Gonzales and two TPWD Recreational and Conservation Access Sites the San Marcos River Retreat and Shady Grove). And it will tie together numerous public and private parks along its 90 mile length. 

Linear state parks that tie together public and private parks along their way are called string of pearl state parks and the will be one of the longest and best string of pearl state parks in the nation. 

We need the support of the cities and counties along the river, so be sure to go to our “How You Can Help” link and contact those officials.  Of course, we also need the support of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commissioners, so be sure to contact them as well.

Let’s make this happen together!