Lots of folks ask about the history of this property, and from time to time we encounter visitors meandering through the area who shed light on its mysteries. From stories passed along to us, we know that the area, at one point in time, was home to Native Americans who called the headwaters of the San Marcos River their home. San Marcos translated is “sacred springs.” Historians hold that San Marcos is the longest continuously inhabited site in North America. Many guests have found delight in the discoveries along our riverfront property, in the form of fossils and other artifacts that point to the areas rich history.
Sometime before Gary Airforce Base was closed, an old time pilot reported to us that he resided in an Airstream with other Airforce pilots in the 1950’s-1960’s, nestled right here under these same pecan trees. In the late 60’s and early 70’s, the property became an excavation site for gravel trucks. Later in that decade, half of the 54 acres that surround us, including the 24.5 acres that make up Pecan Park today, were split into an upper level area that became a mobile home park and a lower level area.
Pecan Park operated as a mobile home park until 1998, when flooding washed the mobile homes away. When FEMA redrew floodplain lines after 1998, it meant no permanent living structure that wasn’t already here could be returned. So old mobile home sites were converted to strictly RV park rentals, which is why many of our sites are much larger than those in a traditional RV park.
The park was operated by an older couple until it was purchased by the Rowley Family Partnership in 2006. Veterans in the RV park industry, the Rowley family added Pecan Park to its other RV park holdings. In March 2006, David and Rachael Rowley, the youngest son of the Rowley family and his wife, moved to the house in the middle of the property to conduct all park operations, while the other family members in the partnership continued to operate their Austin RV park.
As a child born into and brought up in the RV park business, and adding to that a General Studies degree from the University of Mary-Hardin Baylor with an emphasis in journalism and photography, David had operations and marketing knowledge that belied his 28 years. Rachael added her head for business to their two-person team, while she continued as an accounting student at Texas State University, graduating Suma Cum Laude in 2007.
The Rowleys’ heart for people and hospitality quickly vaulted their San Marcos RV park to an unprecedented level of success, and Pecan Park enjoyed a climb to notoriety among top-level RV parks.
In late 2006, knowing this line of work was a calling for both of them, David and Rachael began to plan a family of their own, whose roots continue to be woven into the fabric and future of Pecan Park. Jason, the oldest son, made his appearance in May 2007, and Jeremy made his appearance a short time later in October 2008. With the sale of the Austin operation in the fall of 2007, David’s father had plenty of free time to offer his assistance in San Marcos during Rachael’s difficult pregnancy.
Family dynamics proved challenging, so in January 2009, David and Rachael chose to buy out the siblings in the family partnership. With a majority ownership, David and Rachael looked forward to a brighter future for Pecan Park. Family dynamics and operations goals continued to be a struggle, so in October 2013, David and Rachael signed on the dotted line to buy out the final partners, David’s parents.
Underneath the senior Rowley leadership from 2006-2013, no “rainy day flood fund” or planning for future flooding were ever made a priority. Although Rachael’s business background and upbringing by a licensed financial planner urged her to encourage the senior Rowley leadership to have those contingency plans in place, temporary mobile home-style laundry, the bath house, and cabin facilities were purchased for “ease of mobility” in the need of evacuation!
Pecan Park sits an average of 35 feet above the San Marcos River, on a scenic bluff overlooking its river access. The Halloween 2013 flood brought with it a 39-foot wall of water from the confluence approximately one mile upstream of the San Marcos and Blanco Rivers. With only 25 days between the transfer of ownership from senior to junior leadership on October 4, 2013, to the first flood of Halloween 2013, there simply wasn’t time enough to build a rainy day fund.
So what about advance warnings? The night of the Halloween 2013 flood, Pecan Park was one site shy of 100 percent full. Many of the guests staying that evening were snowbirds beginning their winter vacations. David and Rachael awoke to a phone call from neighbors just 45 minutes before the additional four feet of water that swept through the park arrived. While David ran out to campers to begin knocking on doors, Rachael went to the office to begin making phone calls. But for 80-plus families, there simply wasn’t enough time for everyone to evacuate.
The San Marcos RV park became ground zero for the Red Cross and local emergency service departments because it was the address with the largest amount of individual families affected in the three counties the flood affected. Many folks came out to assist, including current and former campers. David and Rachael moved into their motorhome and would park it across the main entrance at night, to best protect everyone and their things. For four weeks, they offered community meals in the activity room through donations from the local food bank and the generosity of friends and neighbors who wished to help.
Although flood water damaged both the insulation and the ground unit air conditioners for the restroom, laundry, and cabin buildings, we were blessed that it did not get in to the main floors. So again, through the generosity of folks who knew David and Rachael, folks assisted with those repairs. Without time to have built a “flood fund,” the small retirement account the Rowleys had, and a small payout from their home’s flood insurance policy, became the funds that were used to fix the park and float it back to positive cash flow. It took almost six months before the Rowleys and their children could return to sleeping in their home, and another year before things were finally finished.
The day before the Memorial Day 2015 flood hit, they were just six months away from financial and operational stability, after diligently paying off flood expenses and debt. This time, Pecan Park wasn’t so lucky to escape unscathed. Fewer than 15 families were affected in this flood because the county and river authority had put in additional river monitoring gauges farther upstream for earlier detection and warning. In addition, the reverse 911 system had also been implemented by the Tri-County area authority. But this time, a 47-foot wall of water was no match for the property itself.
Pecan Park lost all five cabins, its restroom, and its second laundry facility. All the picnic tables, fire rings, frisbee disc golf course, golf carts, laundry machines, and the Rowleys entire home…gone. In just eight hours.
This time, the San Marcos RV park was not ground zero for emergency assistance. Wimberley had more loss and became the focal point. So with fewer resources, both financially and physically, but still a faithfulness to what God had called them to do, the Rowley family inched forward. They knew, looking at the devastation that Sunday afternoon even as the flood waters raged nearby, that it would take five hard, long, solid years to get back to where they were. There were over half a million dollars in damages.
What they didn’t count on was that the very next October 2015, another 45-foot wall of water would bear down upon the park. Again, very few campers were damaged because of the early detection systems. And, in reality, there wasn’t much left for the water to destroy. But there was plenty of cleanup to be done.
There is even less help to be had from folks the third time a flood happens because most simply think: why haven’t you just sold this nightmare and moved on? And if they are honest, the Rowleys really have contemplated that. But at every turn, God has allowed them to see the silver lining in what they refer to as His backhanded blessings. They know that, for the time being, they are exactly where God wants them.
“We continue to praise Him through the storms of our life, and honor our calling by being good stewards of what He blesses us with. So we soldier on through our five-year recovery plan, determined to simply pay cash for improvements as we go, and to build our rainy day fund. We know it is not if it will come, it is a matter of when. We know that taking care of our staff and their families who rely on us is of utmost importance because they in turn help us take care of you, our customer. It is a symbiotic relationship that we prize and value. A privilege we earn because God has called us to this and you put your faith in us. We appreciate the responsibility. Thank you and we look forward to seeing you soon!”