From his vantage point at Pecan Park Retreat on the San Marcos River, Tom Goynes sees the highs and lows of the river, both natural and manmade. After a couple of years of droughts and floods, this spring is looking really good, he says.
With more than 30 years of experience working and living on the San Marcos River, Goynes knows the twists and turns. His favorite section is the six miles between City Park in San Marcos and his campground upstream from Martindale because it looks tropical with its thick canopy of trees and vegetation-lined banks.
In the heat of the summer, a float down the river is protected by the jungle-like shade. "It's the kind of place you expect to see monkeys," he says. Maybe you won't see monkeys, but you probably will see some of the wildlife that makes its home along the river. "We have all three varieties of the kingfisher. Osprey are common, as well as all kinds of other neat birds."
The San Marcos is one of the most scenic small rivers and one of the largest spring-fed rivers in the state. The river begins at Spring Lake in Aquarena Springs, joins the Blanco River on the edge of town, and then flows into the Guadalupe River at Gonzales before continuing on to the Gulf of Mexico.
With a normal flow of about 130 cubic feet per second (cfs), the cool, 72-degree waters of the San Marcos River are ideal for canoeing, tubing, and other water sports. "The river can go under 100cfs and still be enjoyable," Goynes says, "and at 150 to 200cfs it is pretty forgiving."
The Blanco River is the fluctuating factor. The stream can be bone dry or running at 30,000cfs. A rainstorm upstream can send a wall of water down the valley which takes about eight hours to get from Wimberley to Pecan Park.
"Oddly enough," Goynes says, "there is no governmental agency to warn [people on the river] of dangerous water conditions." By relying on weather reports on the Internet and a network of residents along the river, the campgrounds on the San Marcos River can keep their guests safe.
Because of the inherent dangers of being on the river, Goynes emphasizes safety to everyone who wants to enjoy the beauty of the unique ecosystem. "Know the river before you start out," Goynes says. He advises getting a good guidebook and talking to the locals before starting out. Whether you use a local shuttle service or campground or not, they are willing to give you tips and information on the river.
Now in his late forties, Goynes has been canoeing the river since the 1960s. In the 1970s he managed the campground he now owns. In the 1980s he owned the Shady Grove Campground downstream in Martindale. Operating a canoe shop, campground, and livery service was "too many balls in the air," Goynes says.
He sold Shady Grove to the Spencer family and goofed off for a year while he was looking for riverfront property which he could use to open a small campground. "Basically, I was camping here [at Pecan Park] and then I owned it," he says. In a working pecan orchard, the campground has been open to the public since the turn of the century.
Goynes has made the camp sites friendly to canoeists by building steps down the bank to the river. He has also made the park alcohol-free. "I was tired of being a late-night policeman," says Goynes, who admits to enjoying a beer now and then. After nearly being shot at a couple of times he decided on the prohibition.
Besides running the campground, Goynes also hires out as a river guide on the San Marcos, upper Guadalupe, Medina, and Rio Grande rivers.
Like the San Marcos River, the Medina River is overlooked for its recreational uses. In the heart of the Hill Country, the 10 to 12 river miles between Medina and Bandera are scenic and exciting. "You have to catch it when it's up," Goynes says, "but you have to watch it when it's too high, too." If caught just right, the Medina can be a five-hour trip of tight turns and whitewater rapids.
Up until 1997, Goynes was also the recordholder for the most wins of the Texas Water Safari. Billed as "the toughest boat race in the world" by organizers, the 260-mile race runs from Aquarena Springs to the Gulf of Mexico. The race began in 1963, and Goynes entered his first time at the age of 16 in 1967. In the last 30 years he has been in the race as a participant, a team captain, or a judge.
Whether it is to spend the afternoon swimming or the night camping at Pecan Park Retreat, give Tom Goynes a call at 512/392-5007. If you get a chance, invite him over to your campfire and ask him to tell you some of the stories about doing the Texas Water Safari as a soloist.
Coming up this weekend...
Just for Fun Parade in San Marcos begins in Rio Vista Park at 2pm, Apr. 25, encouraging you to join the fun or cheer the participants along. Potluck supper and music afterwards. 830/372-0293.
Viking Fest in Georgetown brings Scandinavia to San Gabriel Park, Apr. 25-26. 972/484-4562.
Yesterfest/Salinas Art Festival in Bastrop combines a folklife festival and art fest for an interesting day, Apr. 25. 512/321-6283.
Eeyore's Birthday Party in Round Top is mixed with Shakespeare at Winedale Apr. 25. 409/278-3537.
Bowie Street Blues features traditional Texas blues on the grounds of the Institute of Texan Cultures, Apr. 26. 210/458-2300.
Earth Day activities are planned at Guadalupe River/Honey Creek State Natural Area (830/438-2656), Colorado Bend State Park (915/628-3240), Lake Somerville State Park (409/535-7763), and Fairfield Lake State Park (830/438-2656) on Apr. 25.
Spirit of Flight Air Show & WalkAbout at the Flight Museum and Airport in Galveston features living history, May 2-3. 888/354-4488.
Scarborough Fair brings fun, food, and fantasy to 35 acres south of Waxahachie, weekends thru June 14 (including Memorial Day). 214/938-1888.