Letter To The Editor: Epic Battle Ensues Over Capes Dam

Letter To The Editor: Epic Battle Ensues Over Capes Dam
Photo Credit To A Corridor News File Photo

The coup de main came in the form of a newsletter to members from the San Marcos River Foundation (SMRF), which was largely innocuous until it turned to the issue of Capes Dam.

The banks of Thompson’s Island are quiet now as the San Marcos river flows placidly by, but a recent shot off the bow sends two opposing groups into preparation for the Battle of Capes Dam.

Stuck in the middle is the San Marcos City council who recently voted to remove Capes Dam.

The coup de main came in the form of a newsletter to members from the San Marcos River Foundation (SMRF), which was largely innocuous until it turned to the issue of Capes Dam.

The Foundation expressed disappointment with the Heritage Association of San Marcos (HASM) for expressing the Heritage’s support of saving the dam to council in an open letter on September 27, 2017. In their letter to council, 42 year-old organization HASM, stated,

“San Marcos would not have been settled or flourished without the San Marcos River… The Thompson-Capes Dam, constructed in 1867, is one of the oldest existing structures in the San Marcos area and the oldest surviving dam on the river today. Its historical significance cannot be downplayed.”

SMRF continued to suggest that HASM’s logic behind saving the dam was flawed because HASM had only met with a group from one side of the controversy.

The opposition, preparing to raise the colors is Save the SMTX River comprised of community members who appreciate the beauty, history, endangered species and recreational benefits that the dam provides.

Unfortunately, the recent floods have left Cape’s Dam badly damaged and potentially hazardous so prompt action must be taken either restore or remove the dam.  

Capes Dam was originally built to extend a natural slough to enter a bluff, which became the mill race that provided the force to aid a saw mill and cotton gin.

These are the very elements of industry that helped build the San Marcos community and economy. The circuit creates Thompson’s Islands and is complete when it rejoins the river; it measures just over a third of a mile.

Over the last century it has become a popular destination for swimmers, kayakers, scout troops, wounded veterans and people with disabilities. The reason is the gentle current and full circuit makes the river accessible to people who would otherwise require handicapped access.

It is a destination for therapy and recreation for veterans who have suffered mobility loss in combat. Moreover, the environmental impact of removing the dam is disputed by both sides, each has presented differing scientific opinions regarding the effect of the dam’s removal.

This span of river falls within a federally designated critical habitat, meaning a battery of licenses and permits must be obtained to legally remove the historic structure.

Questions to council raised by Save the SMTX River went unanswered when it was discovered through a Texas Parks and Wildlife open record request that at least one application permit was changed after it was notarized and submitted to the state permitting officials, suggesting that the San Marcos city government was somehow coordinating with state officials to speed up demolition.

The changes to these documents also drastically minimized the public notification requirements.

In an election year, the last thing any candidate wants to do is to make stump speeches from a powder keg, but the incumbent candidates survived unscathed by the issue. Both re-elected candidates have openly expressed support for saving the dam but many in the community worry that their resolve for saving the dam will wane due to political pressure.

In this battle of buccaneers and privateers the more powerful organization is the San Marcos River Foundation. SMRF is well-funded by member contributions, current land wealth and has the ear of the city.

Considering many SMRF members have contributed to the current council members, they could be hesitant to offend those that aided their campaigns; however, hope to thwart the scuttling of Capes Dam is not lost, not while a dedicated and growing group of community members stand fast upon the banks of the San Marcos River and fight to preserve and restore it for future generations.

To see documentation and learn more please go to: www.savethesmtxriver.org.

Christie Maycock, San Marcos Resident and Small Business Owner


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  1. T rav

    Restore what exactly? Build a historical marker sign and remove the dam entirely or rebuild it in the same style as Rio Vista Dam. In its current state it is a wreck and ongoing expense of tax payer money to maintain.

  2. John Cunningham

    It still surprises me sometimes how little interest there is in maintaining the historical structures along the San Marcos River. Not only is Capes Dam a surviving example of the simple dams that were built to provide power, the dam also keeps the bypass waterway open and navigable and also allows water to fall over the dam at the far end, where I believe a sawmill was located.

    I find it hard to believe that it would be expensive to restore a dam that was built with hand labor in the Nineteenth Century and that is basically designed as a couple of plank walls with gravel in between. It’s a simple design, but dams like this started industry in San Marcos, and may be more historically relevant than the dam at Spring Lake.

  3. jack

    how about just leave it alone.let nature take its course.i kayak this river all the time,and its not hard to navigate around the structure.it still has some function and keeps the river accessible for activities.not to mention the historical value.


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