San Marcos Greenbelt Alliance •  107 E. Hopkins St. Suite 121A; San Marcos, Texas 78666

The Loop


My Getaway: A Conversation with Lauren Chappell

Lauren is from San Antonio but has frequented San Marcos and other Texas natural areas since before she could walk. She completed her Bachelor’s in Wildlife Biology in 2017 from Texas State University before taking four years to travel the country for various aquatic biology research positions. She lived just outside of the Great Smokies, rafted the Grand Canyon from top to bottom, traveled nearly all of Minnesota’s waterways, and was lucky enough to live smack dab in the middle of the Wyoming and Wind River Mountain Ranges. The San Marcos River called her back home in Fall 2021 to begin a Master’s of Aquatic Resources— Aquatic Biology under Dr. Tim Bonner, with a thesis on hydrogeological impacts on water permanency and fish communities on the upper Nueces River.

When she isn’t studying river systems, Lauren enjoys planting native grass and wildflowers around town, with all thanks going to Native American Seed Company for being such a great resource in understanding the necessity of re-wilding. She has also recently grown to love the pastime of foraging, especially during the fall for mushrooms. Most of all she loves taking her cat for hikes or paddleboarding across the Hill Country, making sure to keep him on a leash at all times (she’s also gained a deep love for bird diversity, so Slater has always been kept on a short leash to help protect our native bird populations).

Why do you value the natural areas?

Although I’ve always loved being outside, especially in protected natural spaces, it didn’t “click” for me why I did until I read The Nature Fix by Florence Williams in 2015. If you haven’t read or heard of that book, I cannot recommend it enough! That, combined with my education in natural systems, has deepened my understanding of the value of natural areas for both human and wildlife health. We may not have a lot of public land in Texas, but what we do have is so uniquely wonderful.

Who or what most influenced your view of the natural world?

My mom went to Southwest Texas State University back in the ‘80s, so she used to bring my brother and me up here a few times each year to tour the campus (we’d always stop at Jones Dining Hall for an ice cream cone) and to play in the river. Although we camped, hiked, and swam across the state, the San Marcos River always just felt extra special. In second grade I was lucky enough to see Dr. Jane Goodall speak, and after that I was completely decided on a career in something outside. I was seven so the word “ecology” was not yet in my vocabulary—I just wanted to play with cats and monkeys. I also grew up with the most stunning cedar tree in my back yard that I would climb to read the Animorphs or Tree House series in for hours. Fast forward to senior year of high school when I had the most wonderful environmental science teacher that inspired me to truly pursue a career in science. Finally, in college I was lucky enough to be the first student in my zoology class to answer Dr. Tim Bonner’s call for volunteers on a trip up to the Red River. It was miserably cold, I was completely unprepared with winter gear, and I didn’t bring nearly enough food, but I was hooked. I kept coming around until a couple weeks later he offered me a job in his lab. Although I credit many with my passions, I can only truly credit him for the gift of this career.

What attracted you to the Greenbelt Alliance?

I found the SMGA table when I was strolling around the Art Walk downtown. I had been wanting to find a community to volunteer with here in town, but hadn’t taken the chance yet to reach out to groups to see where I fit in. I struck up a conversation with Susan about how much I loved the new wildlife viewing area at Schulle Canyon, which luckily led to her asking if I wanted to be on the Outreach Committee. It’s been a blast and I’ve felt more connected to this community than I ever have. I’ve been able to attend a few events with SMGA to get to meet my neighbors and share in the joy that our parks bring us. I’ll be sad to leave when I graduate this spring but honored to have been a part of this wonderful group for a whole year!

What is your favorite trail? What do you like about it?

I think my favorite trail would have to be the Centipede trail in Spring Lake Preserve. I love getting out just after a big rainstorm to see the Cascade Falls active. It’s just the perfect combination for a great hike—few people, relief from the heat, seeing all the water features come to life and usually the wildlife come out in droves!

What do you most enjoy doing when you visit the Greenbelt?

I think mostly I enjoy being able to see a piece of land that has been protected by our community, seeing other people enjoy the spaces in their own way and knowing that there is a rich history of human use of this area. To be able to see some trees or water features nearly just as the first groups of Native Americans used to is very humbling. Sometimes I just sit under a big oak or pecan tree for a good hour listening to the wildlife and immersing myself in what nature has been, and always will be—a place of solitude.

What recommendations would you give new users of the trail?  

Enjoy your time and think about what we can do as a community to continue to protect our unique ecosystem! The parks we have here in town are all so wonderful, and if you can visit each of them you should. Being able to see the differences between each park and why they’re all so important is a special experience!

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