San Marcos holds fourth-annual Downtown Mermaid Promenade


Parade Marshals, Katinka Pinka and Lee Wallace, leading the parade down LBJ Drive. Photo credit: Brianna Benitez

Brianna Benitez

A sea of glitter, jewels and fins flooded the streets of San Marcos in celebration of the fourth-annual Downtown Mermaid Promenade.

Community members gathered Saturday, Sept. 21 to celebrate the unique and artistic culture of San Marcos. The parade line-up began at 10 a.m. at the corner of CM Allen and Cheatham Street.

The parade was established by the Mermaid Society of San Marcos in 2016. Since then, the event has remained anticipated during the 15-day Mermaid SPLASH (Stewardship, Preservation, Local, Arts, Sustainability, Heritage) festival, a series of city-wide events created to celebrate the arts, culture and history of the San Marcos River.

The Mermaid Society was founded to carry on the magic and legacy of the mermaids of Aquarena Springs, a theme park that once operated on the headwaters of Spring Lake.

At the park, performers known as “aquamaids” would dance and act out skits underwater. Through these performances, audiences were able to witness the whimsical world of the San Marcos River.

The park closed its doors in 1990 and was later purchased by Texas State. The sight is now recognized as The Meadows Center for Water and the Environment.

Although Aquarena Springs Park is no longer open, its charm and artistry continue to live on through events like the Downtown Mermaid Promenade.

Each September, local businesses, community members and organizations unite to celebrate the magic of the river. Additionally, the parade recognizes honorary members of the community.

Tom and Paula Goynes were recognized this year as the King and Queen of SPLASH. The Goynes have been San Marcos residents for over 40 years and organized the first San Marcos River cleanup in 1972.

Tom Goynes said he became intrigued by the river after seeing an article for the Texas Water Safari canoe race in the Houston Chronicle. The race is a four-day competition that begins in the San Marcos River and ends in the town of Seadrift.

Goynes said he first attempted the race—but failed to finish—at 16 years old in 1967. He returned the following year and was able to complete the event. He said it was during the race he first fell in love with the San Marcos River.

“I grew up in Houston and paddled in bayous where the water was dark and polluted,” Goynes said. “When I came to (San Marcos), the water was crystal clear and I couldn’t believe it.”

As King of SPLASH, Goynes said he plans on advocating for city officials to pass a can-ban to ensure the river is kept clean and suitable for children.

“Our river is a magical place,” Goynes said. “It’s fun, it’s beautiful and it needs to be kid-friendly.”

During the parade, Goynes displayed his passion for reducing cans as he held a trident with three aluminum cans stabbed into the spears.

Angela Zumwalt, director of mermaid programming for the Mermaid Society, recruits and manages mermaid volunteers for various community events like the parade.

Growing up, Zumwalt said her father and grandfather were ship captains, so she spent most of her childhood around the ocean.

When Zumwalt was seven years old, her father passed away. The last book he gave her was “The Little Mermaid” by Hans Christian Andersen.

“I latched pretty strong to that story and was a big fan of mermaids ever since then,” Zumwalt said.

In addition to being the director of mermaid programming, Zumwalt is known in the community as Mermaid Maya, the educational outreach mermaid.

As Mermaid Maya, Zumwalt educates the San Marcos youth on the importance of protecting the river. She hopes her role as Mermaid Maya makes a difference in the San Marcos community.

“I hope I’m able to make a true impression on our youth about just how special and wonderful our river is,” Zumwalt said.

Ayesha Sosa was recruited by Zumwalt last year and has been participating in the parade since. Sosa said participating in the parade has allowed her to get involved in the Texas mermaid community.

Sosa said her favorite part of the parade is witnessing the excitement of children when she and fellow mermaids smile and wave to them.

Sosa said she and her sister would pretend to be mermaids growing up. However, her sister was diagnosed with leukemia and passed away when she was nine years old. Her sister’s death made her realize how short life is and encouraged her to go after her dream of becoming a mermaid.

“I realized if you find something that makes you happy, you should do it and put all of your energy into it,” Sosa said.

To honor childhood cancer and her sister’s passing, Sosa said she wears a gold and orange tail when performing as Mermaid Ayesha.

Shannon Rauch has been participating in the parade for two years and travels from North Carolina to participate. She enjoys visiting because the parade is so different compared to other mermaid events.

“I find gatherings are more for (mermaids) to just swim together or go to cosplay conventions,” Rauch said. “This parade is largely supporting the river and conservation and showing how important it is to preserve it.”

Rauch has been a mermaid for eight years. She said the empowerment that comes with being a mermaid is her favorite part.

“It doesn’t matter how old or what size you are,” Rauch said. “Anyone can be a mermaid.”

For more information on the history of the San Marcos River and Downtown Mermaid Promenade visit the Mermaid Society of San Marcos website.

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