Jaynellen Kerr was sitting in her office at the recreation center across from Canyon Lake Dam in July 2002, when word quickly spread that water had begun surging across the overflow spillway after a week of heavy rains.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) began evacuating parks, which were full for the July 4 holiday, moving tourists away from the lake, and asking residents to leave portions of the River Road.
“We were all here,” she says of that day when as executive director of what later became part of Canyon Lake Resource and Recreation Center, she had a ringside seat to one of the most spectacular events in modern geological history. “We were all standing out here and were amazed to witness the birth of the gorge. It was incredible. It was the power of water, up close.”
More than 34 inches of rain fell into the upper watershed of the Guadalupe River over a period of six weeks, sending up to 67,000 cubic feet of water-per-second flowing over the spillway, carving out one of the most-riveting natural wonders in the Canyon Lake area and Kerr’s next job as resource specialist at Canyon Lake Gorge, which is managed by Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority (GBRA).
Kerr was used to challenges — as a member of Project KISS (Kids in Safe Surroundings) she helped finance the rec center by raising $100,000 in pennies dropped into water jugs left in Sattler schools — but nothing proved as fascinating as managing daily operations of one of the premier destinations in the Canyon Lake area.
“It’s like being within the earth,” she says. “You’re walking a million years from 110 to 111 million years back in time, and we’re going to tell you what we see all the way down.”
Her responsibilities include interfacing with 80 volunteers with the Gorge Preservation Society; overseeing tours by students, boy scouts, geologists and tourists; coordinating rescue training with Canyon Lake Fire/EMS; assisting research geologists mapping the gorge; running the “rock shop;” working with Lindheimer master naturalists; conducting detailed tours; and patiently answering thousands of questions about paleontology, geology, botany and hydrology.
Kerr’s spent most of her adult life in Canyon Lake, and she likes to remind residents they have a natural wonder sitting right in their own backyards.
She says it’s hardly unusual to hear arriving guests complain three-hour, north-and-south rim tours are a bit too long then wish they’d had more time to spend afterward.
“You know, I’m not a geologist. I didn’t know any of this when I first started. But I learned it, and it’s just incredible the amount of people who are coming out and learning, too. There’s just so much to see.”
Next on her to-do list is helping supervisor Nathan Pence, GBRA’s executive manager of Environmental Science and Community Affairs, develop self-guided, interactive gorge tours and plan and oversee construction of a new interpretive learning center.
“We need more parks and outdoor education for families to get outside and learn,” Kerr says. “There’s just not a lot of it in our area. We’ve got the lake and we’ve got the river but we’ve also got a phenomenon right here in our backyard, and it’s incredible. Kids are learning, their test scores are going up, and families are getting out in nature. We plan not only on developing the new learning center but also the North Rim Trail for self-guided tours.
“We’ve been waiting for this for a long time, and it’s happening now.”