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The Texas City Where Mermaids Inspire River Conservation | Travel

Erin Donaghue

The first thing visitors to the central Texas city of San Marcos notice are the mermaids. They’re everywhere, in some form. At the playground, one of the city’s fiberglass mermaid statues stands seven feet tall, her tail and hair painted in a rainbow of neon colors. At the library, a costumed interpreter named Mermaid Cypress often reads to kids in a salmon-colored fin. And at a local restaurant, a mural depicts a blue-tailed mermaid swimming below a lake’s sunlit surface in the company of fish, salamanders and cranes. “Keep San Marcos beautiful,” the lettering reads.

“The mermaid has become a muse for San Marcos—a kind of inspiration,” says Daniel Guerrero, who served as the city’s mayor from 2010 to 2016.

The city of 68,500 people, situated between Austin and San Antonio, is the official “Mermaid Capital of Texas.” Formerly most recognized for its Texas State University campus and outlet mall, San Marcos is “back on the map when it comes to creative, innovative cultural events,” Guerrero says, thanks to its annual Mermaid Capital of Texas Fest that has been drawing thousands each September since 2016.

Molly O'Hara reads at San Marcos Public Library

Mary O’Hara, who volunteers as an “AquaReina,” dresses as “Mermaid Cypress” and reads aloud to children at the San Marcos Public Library.

Molly O’Hara

So how did the mermaid become the icon of a landlocked city 160 miles from the closest beach? That’s a question July Moreno-Holbrook loves to answer.

“I always get excited when people say, ‘Mermaids in San Marcos? I don’t get it. It’s not a coastal town,’” says Moreno-Holbrook, founder of the nonprofit group the Mermaid Society of Texas, and the champion of the mermaid’s revival in San Marcos. “Well, that’s the perfect opportunity for us to talk about our river.”

Conservation efforts around the San Marcos River, which runs through the heart of the city, are key to the Mermaid Society’s mission. The river’s headwaters at Spring Lake are fed by 200 underwater artesian springs originating from the Edwards Aquifer, a 3,600-square-mile natural groundwater system that’s a crucial water source in south-central Texas, providing drinking water to more than two million people. At 72 degrees Fahrenheit year-round, the San Marcos River is popular with tubers and…

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