Mermaids are coming to San Marcos this weekend to remind us to take care of local waterways
Laura Cardona remembers visiting Aquarena Springs as a kid. The theme park, which closed in 1996, was built around the San Marcos River and featured underwater "aquamaid" performances.
"I said, 'Oh my God, I want to be a mermaid when I grow up,' never thinking that that would become a reality," she said.
What started when she borrowed a tail from a friend turned into a lifestyle, Cardona said. Now she has a rack full of tails.
Cardona and several other mermaids will take part in the city's annual Mermaid Capital of Texas Fest this weekend, where merfolk take over downtown streets and bask in the sun by the San Marcos River.
The event, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, will include a parade, live music and a market.
Cardona said she loves putting on a colorful tail with matching hair and makeup.
"Each tail has their own persona, or merperson, so to speak," she said. "When I put on my tail, I become a true mermaid. I feel her, I believe her, and she kind of just guides me."
Cardona is a member of the Mermaid Society of Texas and a former educator. She sees "mermaiding" as a fun and inclusive way to teach people how to take care of local waterways.
She also just happens to be married to the superintendent of the San Marcos Consolidated Independent School District, Michael Cardona. She said she and her husband share the same mission: teaching kids about the river and stewardship of the land.
San Marcos CISD launched a program this week that puts dozens of eco-conscious and mermaid-themed books in every elementary school library. Cardona and other mermaids visited San Marcos elementary schools to read to kids.
"I think the importance of respecting the environment and addressing literacy goes hand in hand," Superintendent Cardona said. "We are a community, we are a village, and it's all around the river."
The Mermaid Society of Texas and the San Marcos River Foundation want people to have fun this weekend while being mindful to not litter and pollute the river.
Virginia Parker, executive director of the San Marcos River Foundation, said glitter, sequins and balloons have been problems in previous years and that she's working with event organizers to spread the word.
"How do we celebrate the river and educate people while, at the same time, not adding to the problem during the festivities?" Parker said.
She said volunteers find all kinds of stuff during river cleanups, including lots of vapes, flip-flops, jello shot containers, cans, water bottles and even phones and speakers.
"Any trash that ends up in our river is going to end up at the ocean," she said. "The less we put in the water upstream, the less that we're going to add to the problem downstream."
The river connects people from all walks of life in San Marcos, but Parker wants to remind visitors that to keep that culture alive, we need to make sure the river's here to stay.
"If people don't understand where the river comes from and where our drinking water comes from, then they're less likely to care about conservation of that resource," Parker said.