SAN MARCOS — San Marcos residents saw new life breathed into the little red barn at Jack’s Pond Park this week as the city unveiled the renovated nature center with nine newly-designed immersive classrooms focused on the city’s flora and fauna.
A beloved destination for families and school field trips, the nature center is the jewel of the 23-acre Jack’s Pond Park off La Moree Road in San Marcos, offering hands-on activities for elementary-aged youth.
After being closed for most of the past three years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the center’s grand reopening was celebrated Wednesday by city leaders, dozens of families and members of Friends of San Marcos, a nonprofit supporting local parks that donated $6,000 toward the project.
Those funds were used to spruce up the various nature-themed classrooms, many of which had become outdated, and transition them to be more specific to San Marcos. The room themes now include freshwater life, nocturnal animals, trails, insects, reptiles, birds, local history, and conservation, with another cozy room for reading.
“I think every single one of these rooms is symbolic of something that we as residents are passionate about in this city,” said Friends of San Marcos director Lauren King.
After the ribbon was cut, eager kids of all ages explored the new rooms. Pelts waited to be touched in the nocturnal animal’s room, recordings of different bird cries could be heard, and poles could be used for “fishing” in the freshwater room.
Several residents had come to the center in the years before the renovations and were impressed with the changes.
“We were excited to hear they were gonna renovate it,” said Malynda Clair, who attended the reopening with her daughter Mila. “It’s super exciting to see San Marcos grow and develop — I love it.”
One city employee, in particular, was at the core of the center’s redesign, taking it on as a passion project. Recreation leader Erin Rimmereid has spent countless hours at the barn in Jack’s Pond Park, working part-time at the nature center before transitioning to a full-time role overseeing the site and leading field trips.
Rimmereid planned out and created all the new decorations adorning the center’s classrooms, from the life-size paper trees and painted egg carton garlands to almost all the painted murals. She also spearheaded making the conservation room entirely out of recycled materials.
“It’s been a really fun experience. I’m an environmental studies major, so I’m really passionate about the environment,” Rimmereid said. “We wanted to make it an immersive experience.”
She also played a significant role in securing funding from the Friends of San Marcos, which had previously provided funding for first graders at Title 1 schools to attend field trips at the center.
“Erin came to our board and said, ‘I’d like to do some upgrades,’ and that helped us make the decision. She brought her ideas to us, and we said, ‘You know what, you’re right,’ because it had been a long time since it had been upgraded,” recalled President Kathryn Gray. “It was an easy thing to say yes to.”
Once the Friends agreed to provide funding, things took off, and the nature center was able to purchase what Rimmereid hadn’t been able to make on her own — the “manipulatives,” or hands-on activities for each room, as well as decor like new rugs.
“We’ve been working on it for about four years. We got the grant about a year ago, and that’s when things kicked into gear. Before that, we were working with what we had, but when the friends came in … that’s when all the big changes came in,” Rimmereid said, looking around the new, colorful center now crowded with families. “It’s really cool to see this many people here; I’ve never seen it like this.”
The Jack’s Pond Nature Center is located at 986 La Moree Road. The nature center is open to the public from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays, and it is run entirely by volunteers. Field trips are also offered every Thursday from 10 a.m. to noon, with more information available at san-marcos.net/play/jack-s-pond-nature-center.