Camp Bullis Sentinel Landscape
After 25 of years managing, enhancing, and protecting the Edwards Aquifer, the Edwards Aquifer Authority (EAA) is about to embark on a new journey as they open an innovative education center in San Antonio next month. The $3 million EAA Education Outreach Center (EOC) will encompass 3,500 square feet and feature unique learning experiences centered on the region’s most precious natural resource – the Edwards Aquifer!
A Perfect Partnership
The Edwards Aquifer Authority began operating in 1996 to manage groundwater in the Edwards Aquifer, a sensitive karst formation that underlies some of the fastest-growing areas in the state. The groundwater in the Edwards Aquifer sustains not only millions of San Antonio residents, but also several endangered or threatened species that call the springs home. The EAA works toward the aquifer’s long-term sustainability with a focus on science, education, and outreach. The EOC is a natural extension of that mission as the center will share the importance of the protecting the aquifer with local students and visitors for years to come.
The EOC is the result of a partnership between EAA and Morgan’s Wonderland Camp that began in 2019. Morgan’s Wonderland Camp is the newest part of the ultra-accessible family of inclusive initiatives led by San Antonio businessman and philanthropist Gordon Hartman. The camp is one of only a few facilities in the country catering visitors of all abilities, featuring activities such as a wheelchair-accessible zipline, horseback riding, and a variety of swimming pools to meet different needs.
The camp property lies within the Edwards Aquifer Recharge Zone on the northeast side of San Antonio. Nearly 250 acres of the surrounding land was enrolled in the City of San Antonio’s Edwards Aquifer Protection Program, a conservation easement that prevents substantial development over the vulnerable landscape. Working together to coordinate the easement, EAA saw the potential for partnership. According to EAA General Manager Roland Ruiz, “We thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be neat if we had a presence out there?’ Knowing Gordon, we reached out to him. Once we talked, things started happening really fast… It just seemed like a natural fit.”
Exhibits at the EOC focus on sharing the significance of the Edwards Aquifer and the water that flows beneath the surface. Nobody understands that importance like the Fountain Darter and Texas Blind Salamander, two of the endangered indicator species that rely on the health of the aquifer and will soon have a home in a special aquarium at the EOC. The EAA believes that the use of endangered species for this EOC exhibit will be a powerful tool in raising awareness and will help instill the importance of protecting and conserving the aquifer and the ecosystem. This aquarium is an exciting addition to the many features offering camper engagement within the EOC.
One of the main attractions within the Education Outreach Center is the Karst Theatre, a realistic “cave” environment which serves as a space for engaged and imaginative learning. While seated on chairs resembling rocks and surrounded by multiple large screens, young campers and visiting school groups will learn about the aquifer system through hands on-activities and demonstrations – all while being virtually transported underground!
The largest – and certainly the heaviest – piece of technology within the EOC will immediately capture visitors’ attention as soon as they walk inside. Hanging from the ceiling and weighing over three hundred pounds, a five-foot-tall Global Perspective Display projects compelling images from its hundreds of individual screens. When assembled into a globe, the sphere appears as if it is rotating while demonstrating the worldwide impact of weather patterns on Texas and the Edwards Aquifer. When the EOC opens to the public, there is no doubt that this spectacular display will make a lasting impression on the minds of all who see it.
The EOC is award-winning even before its opening – the center was honored with a Texas Rain Catcher Award in 2021 for their rainwater harvesting system that serves as the only water source at the center’s demonstration garden. The garden and accompanying two-tank system will be used to educate attendees about the benefits of conserving water through rainwater harvesting and reducing erosion by planting native plants, while also providing unique learning experiences through participation. The larger tank will hold more than 20,000 gallons collected from the 6,376 square-foot roof and will feed into the smaller tank, which holds about 1,000 gallons for drip irrigation. The demonstration garden will be watered solely from the collected rainwater and will eliminate the need to use conventional sources.
Here at TAGD, we can’t wait to visit this innovative new facility and have no doubt that it will impact the region for generations to come. The EAA EOC will open on Thursday, April 14. It is located at Morgan’s Wonderland Camp, 23400 Cibolo Vista Road, San Antonio, TX 78261. You can sign up for updates to be among the first to experience the EOC here on the center’s website.
To broaden their audience and ensure that the EAA’s education spreads beyond the walls of the EOC, staff are developing social media content to share information such as aquifer science facts and hands-on demonstrations that anyone can try at home. Follow the EAA EOC on the following platforms to stay in-the-know.
Thanks to Ann-Margaret Gonzalez (Public Affairs Lead) and Sarah Valdez (STEM Educator) from EAA for their contributions to this article.