Home Opinions Float Fest does more good than harm for San Marcos

Float Fest does more good than harm for San Marcos

float fest
Illustration by Valkyrie Mata.

Held at Cool River Ranch on Dupey Ranch Road for the past four years, Float Fest is a one-of-a-kind music festival that attracts people from all over the state. With last year’s headliners ranging from Tame Impala to Lil Wayne, Float Fest has something for everyone and is a rite of passage for Bobcats and San Martians alike.

Last week, Guadalupe County Commissioners Court voted Thursday to deny a large gathering permit to Float Fest. The reasons given were primarily based on the appeals of residents, many claiming that traffic and litter is a big issue for them regarding Float Fest.

One of the complainants, Tom Goynes, co-owner of San Marcos River Retreat in Caldwell, opposes the festival because he claims it hurts his business. Hurting one business, however, is a small price to pay for the $12.3 million generated, with nearly $670,000 in taxes alone.

Goynes’ business is upstream from Cool River Ranch and shouldn’t be affected by litter, just heavier traffic and noise. Persnickety residents don’t want the traffic and noise, but the weekend of Float Fest is no different than the Fourth of July or Labor Day weekend; the people of Texas will always flock to rivers for fun-filled weekends in the sun.

Some say the county doesn’t profit because the private company makes the bulk of the profits, but shutting the whole festival down isn’t a solution to these minor complaints. Residents claim Float Fest isn’t good for them, but Float Fest isn’t for them. People of Caldwell County can enjoy their river town all year long; there’s no good reason not to let others enjoy the water and their favorite artists, too.

Other complaints include worries of medical issues and trash destroying the river. Though the San Marcos River is home to over seven endangered species, these animals are sturdy enough to handle a weekend of higher-than-usual river traffic; after all, they’ve been doing it for decades. Local divers are more than happy to help clean up the river if air tanks are provided, and it’s not too much to ask for the festival’s planners to allocate a small portion of their profits to provide supplies for divers to clean.

Residents can plan in advance for traffic and a few days of potentially slower business. San Marcos residents have to prepare themselves for busy weekends like graduation days and move-in days at Texas State; it’s part of what residents learn to expect when living near a college down with a spring-fed river in Central Texas.

Naomi Wick is a journalism senior


  1. For someone who claims they’re vegan and pro-life, the line, “Though the San Marcos River is home to over seven endangered species, these animals are sturdy enough to handle a weekend of higher-than-usual river traffic; after all, they’ve been doing it for decades.” is honestly disgusting. Assuming you care about the lives of animals too since you’re vegan (and wrote how students gain nothing from classroom animal dissections), you should really reconsider the line you just wrote. It’s not only insensitive, it’s an attack on the river and the animals living there.

    How would you like it if people were living in your apartment for a weekend? After all, you can handle a weekend of higher-than-usual traffic. You are sturdy enough to handle it.

  2. I don’t think I have ever read a more uninformed and ignorant article. Thank you Texas State for continuing to provide blissful ignorance.

  3. You need to educate yourself on environmental issues. Go interview the scientists at the Meadows Center about this. Additionally, the economic data is overestimated by the festival organizers.

  4. Dear Naomi Wick,

    I read with interest your article entitled “Float Fest Does More Good Than Harm for San Marcos”. I found the article fascinating because, while I was the main antagonist of the article, you never made an effort to contact me to ask my side of the story.
    So, here it is, in case you are interested.

    It is true that Floatfest adversely affects my business. My wife (and best friend) Paula and I own and operate a youth oriented campground on the banks of the San Marcos River (right in the middle of the float part of the fest). We have owned our campground since 1990. We have owned and/or managed a campground on the San Marcos River since 1972.

    And understand, even though we are old now, we weren’t always this way. I won the 260 mile non-stop Texas Water Safari (a canoe race from San Marcos to Seadrift – in case you haven’t heard of it) seven times overall. I also won the solo division (paddling the whole 260 miles by myself) twice, the mixed division (with Paula) twice and the parent child division (with my daughter – who attended Texas State) twice. I finished the race 22 times for a total of 5,720+ miles of paddling. So, I got to know the river system pretty well just through canoe racing.

    But I also guided hundreds of canoe trips down this river (who knows how many people I introduced to the San Marcos) and I rented thousands of canoes and kayaks to people who might otherwise not have seen the river. I taught canoeing and kayaking at Texas State (back when it was called Southwest Texas State University). I organized hundreds of clean ups of the river. In fact, I started the Great Texas River Clean Up which is scheduled to happen on March 2. This year is the 34th annual. And I am still the coordinator of the hundreds of canoeists and kayakers who come from all over the state to participate.

    I did my first clean up of the river when I moved here from Houston in 1972. So, I was cleaning this river long before you were even a gleam in your daddy’s eye.

    But enough of this background stuff. What about the facts in the article. First of all, our campground is not in Caldwell (a town just this side of College Station). We are between San Marcos and Martindale in Caldwell County. Caldwell County is the county that was not mentioned in the economic benefit segment of the article. The counties that each receive a share of the alleged 12 million bucks are Guadalupe County (county seat Seguin) Hays County (San Marcos) and Travis County (Austin). I don’t know if the University Star does any fact checking, but I suspect that this 12 million dollars of economic benefits needs a second glance. But in either case, you will notice that Caldwell County (where Paula and I reside) isn’t listed as a beneficiary.

    Instead of reaping a financial windfall when FloatFest floats around, Caldwell County spends a significant amount of money providing security and safety on the river. One estimate (and this is from a few years back) was that this county spends over $20,000 on safety and police during this event.

    And that is kinda where Paula and I come into the story. You have to understand that you can’t have youth groups trying to camp during FloatFest. I mean, 10,000 people floating down the little San Marcos River means it is kinda crowded. It is too full of tubes for anyone to try to navigate a canoe or kayak – and that is what the majority of our campers want to do. Then, of course there is the behavior – and here is where my old age really kicks in. The bottom line is that I feel that a river full of 10,000 drunk college students is no place for kids. There. I’ve said it. And I feel strangely better.

    So, while I am at it I will continue. The music that we have to listen to at night is also not suitable for youth groups. When I was growing up the “F” word was reserved for special occasions. Now I is so common that I really don’t think most young people can complete a sentence without using it.

    And, just so you know that we are not the only skeletons that feel the behavior during FloatFest is a bit over the top, you should talk to the sheriff in Guadalupe County (one of the counties swimming in cash because of this event). During the hearing (where the permit was denied) he stated that he doesn’t let his deputies enter the grounds of Floatfest (unless there is an emergency) because he doesn’t want to subject them to that kind of behavior.

    Maybe the divide between what my generation and yours considers acceptable public behavior is what we are having trouble visualizing. Here is a little incident that might help you understand the problem. We were sitting on our gravel bar one summer day a couple of summers ago (I should mention that we have finally learned that we shouldn’t be on our gravel bar on a summer afternoon) and some girls on tubes were removing their tops in exchange for a can of beer. Paula hollered at them a question, “Can’t you see that there are kids here?” We had our grandkids there as well as a few scouts that were camping. Anyway, the girls never heard her – and they never noticed that there were natives on the gravel bar – they were too involved in communicating with their own kind. But there was a guy floating near Paula who heard her – and strangely, was able to understand her language. And he replied with a question of his own, “Why would anyone bring kids to this River?”

    I have this archaic idea that property that is considered public – that is, open to everyone – including kids – has to be “G” rated. And the river, as near as I can tell, is still supposed to be open to families and kids.

    I could go on the mention the incident in which a drunk tuber guy hauled a drunk tuber girl up from the river draped across his shoulders, into the middle of our campground, in full view of some natives (families) and proceeded to make tuber babies. Or the incident in which a bobcat girl was drug and killed under a bus on the property where Floatfest is held, or the inebriated bobcat tuber girl that drove her car headlong into a family killing the husband and their unborn baby. Or the drownings or the death involving jumping out of trees. But, time will only allow so much. I just hope you get the idea as to why we are concerned about the behavior.

    So, our camp is closed during Floatfest. But don’t suppose that we are not busy. Oh no. We have lots of folks using our campground that weekend – it’s just that no one is paying to use it. First of all, we let the Friends of the San Marcos in to pick up trash or count tubes or do whatever they want to do. Then we let the paid trash cleaners in to collect beer cans. Next we let the Texas Search and Rescue People set up their RV’s. These are the folks who provide a measure of security for the people floating the river. They are also the people who will search for bodies if someone drowns. We let the Martindale Fire Department set up in the campground. We let the Caldwell County Incident Command trailer set up to coordinate all the police, search and rescue volunteers, deputies and DPS personnel. Finally, we let the Texas Search and Rescue volunteers use our chapel and kitchen as a cafeteria in which to feed all the various volunteers.

    Hundreds of paid police and volunteers spend their Floatfest weekend providing at least a little bit of safety and security so that thousands of college kids can enjoy a drunken weekend. At least you should know that we care enough about the safety of these young adults, to allow our campground to be used – at no charge – by a bunch of people whose job it is to provide some measure of safety.

    You interested in pictures? We can provide them. Pictures of hundreds of bags of cans that would have ended up in the river that are intercepted by folks who beg tubers for their cans. Pictures of cans on the bottom of the river that are not intercepted. Victims of the drink em and sink em attitude.

    But it might be more beneficial (for you to understand the negative effect of Floatfest on the river) if we talked about the effect of 10,000 people walking down the river. Because that is what happens. Whether it is because folks get so drunk that they cannot balance on a tube any longer or because some people just feel better walking than floating, it seems that a lot of folks walk down the river instead of float. And, this isn’t Schlitterbahn. This isn’t a chlorinated river with a concrete bottom. This is a real river with a mud, sand, and gravel bottom. This a a river with real fish in it that spawn in spawning beds on the bottom of the river. Those spawning beds don’t do well when 10,000 people walk through them. And then there is the effect of that many people walking down the river on the clarity of the water. Let’s just say that the ordinarily clear San Marcos River looks a lot more like the muddy Brazos by the end of the day. And finally, let’s not forget the effect of 10,000 people urinating in the river in one day. Think of a town the size of Fredericksburg peeing in the river for a day.

    And that brings up the subject of traffic. Although I am in another county, and I completely avoid driving in that part of Guadalupe County that weekend, think of 20,000 people – a population the size of Seguin – entering and exiting a single location on a small two lane road with not shoulders. One wreck, and that whole road could be shut down. Then how are you going to get an ambulance in or out?

    So, what is my solution. Well, first of all, I would recommend that the concert (which is the core of Floatfest) be held in San Marcos. Bobcat Stadium can easily hold the crowd. And you have parking and lots of roads to handle the cars.

    As for 10,000 or more people floating a river. Well, that gets more complicated. I think you are going to have to build a man made river with a concrete bottom and lots of chlorine. And, it would probably be a good idea to have a few hundred restrooms of some sort. And then you are going to need a few hundred lifeguards and a lot of police officers. The current float trip is held on a real river with no rest rooms, no life guards, a natural bottom and very few police. It is already a natural disaster. But it is a human disaster waiting to happen.

    Thanks for listening.

    Tom Goynes

  5. Probably the best way to comment on this opinion is to share the link to Yelp! so people can read the actually reviews from Float Fest attendees:

    Here is one of my favorite reviews:

    This was such a terrible fest. The float trip took several hours and everyone was packed into the river like sardines. The only way you moved downstream was by the people behind you pushing you forward. It was also the only relief from the heat, so there was no swimming unless you wanted to do the entire 2-4 hour river float.

    I couldn’t find more than one water station on either the festival grounds or the campsite. They don’t allow you to bring your water onto the festival grounds but there’s NO water anywhere except for vendors selling it for $3?? In 105 degree heat this is a huge hazard and I’m surprised someone didn’t get extremely sick from heat exhaustion. Then again, the medical tents were empty so they wouldn’t be able to help anyway.

    Everything had a line. I mean everything. And like, a 40+ minute line for everything. When I got past the will call line I asked the guy working it for some water because i was dehydrated, and he gave me some and said “don’t tell anyone I gave you this”. He was really nice but it was clear to me that they were hoarding water for their volunteers but not bothering to stock enough for the actual festival-goers.

    Volunteers were mostly clueless and disorganized. They couldn’t answer my questions and some asked me for the maps I was carrying that I found because they had no idea where anything was.

    Campsite was tiny, I was told by a volunteer to park our cars “as close together as possible”. All of our tents were practically on top of eachother. The campsite was massive and you had to trek all the way across it to get to their general store (where a bag of ice was $5) or the singular water station.


  6. Complete crap journalism that sounds like it was written by a teenager convincing thier parents to let them throw a party.
    And no the litter isn’t s small deal that can just be handled by the divers. By the time your party is over, half the trash has made it to the ocean. Do you think the divers find all or even most of what remains. Are you aware how water flow works?
    Why dont the festival throwers focus on making it an eco friendly event?
    I dont mean by encouraging people to recycle.
    I mean by not providing plastic cups. At conscious events, which this would not fall under, you bring your own cup, sooon, bowl.
    Make the event about the environment.
    Call it endangered species fest, do a river cleanup each afternoon as part of the festival. Etc.


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