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Friday, June 07, 2013

Geological Treasure is Fatal Site

 


The clear water of Jacob’s Well is essential to life for individuals, but it has been the source of multiple fatalities.
The well is a perennial artesian spring that lies on an 80-acre Jacob’s Well Natural Area preserve in Wimberley. It is the longest underwater cave in Texas, and divers have mapped caverns that lead into the Trinity Aquifer. Water from Jacob’s Well feeds the Blue Hole, a recreational spot in Wimberley, and Cyprus Creek, which flows into the Blanco River.
“Jacob’s Well is really a geologic treasure of the hill country,” said David Baker, executive director of the Wimberley Valley Watershed Association. “The Trinity Aquifer covers most of the Hill Country, and Jacob’s Well is the largest Trinity Aquifer spring.”
Baker said diving in the well was unregulated from the 1960s through the 1980s. Kent Maupin, a diver from Pasadena, was reported missing in 1979 — 20 years later, he has been recovered.
Dan Misiaszek, founder of the San Marcos Area Recovery Team, has been a certified diver for more than 27 years and works alongside his wife Kathy in diving expeditions. Misiaszek said he knew it would simply be a matter of time before they would have to go into Jacob’s Well.
Misiaszek said he and his wife had to proceed with caution through the cave although they are certified divers with extensive training. Prior to 2000, they had only gone into the third chamber of Jacob’s Well. Dan Misiaszek said they had heard stories of deaths in the cave and did not wish risk their lives by swimming through the tight passageway leading to the fourth chamber. A flood widened the tunnel in 2000 and allowed the Misiaszeks to explore further into the cave.
“We accidently discovered human remains,” Misiaszek said. “We notified the sheriff’s department and then started doing research to learn about the divers who had gone missing there.”
The Misiaszeks learned Maupin had been a member of the Neptune’s Locker Diving Association, and were able to identify the remains from the association’s sticker on Maupin’s wetsuit. The Hays Country Sheriff’s Department notified Maupin’s family members. Misiaszek said the Maupin family originally did not want him to return to Jacob’s Well out of fear he would suffer the same fate, but Misiaszek and his team assured them they had enough experience to make the recovery.
Dan and Kathy Misiaszek’s experience was put to the test during the recovery. Dan Misiaszek said silt is heavy in the cave’s fourth chamber, and it is easy for divers to become disoriented. Dan Misiaszek scrambled through a tight opening that led back to the third chamber, but at one point questioned whether or not he was actually proceeding further into the cave.
Misiaszek’s team was able to recover the remains of Kent Maupin, and he was given a proper burial in his hometown of Pasadena.
“In any overhead environment, including shipwrecks, there is no direct path to the surface,” Misiaszek said. “It all requires special training beyond recreational diving. The cave itself is not dangerous. What kills divers is lack of training and lack of gear.”
Records state approximately eight divers have drowned in the underwater cave, and because of that diving is now restricted to scientific research.
The Texas Stream Team, a division of the River Systems Institute at Texas State, has supported the Wimberley Valley Watershed Association in the creation of the Jacob’s Well Natural Area to protect the land around the well. Free tours of the area are given weekly, and an education center exists on site to inform visitors of the well’s history and the ecological importance to the area.
The area has been designated as a Texas Stream Team site for water quality monitors. Water samples are collected once a month to address aquatic life issues along Cyprus Creek and ensure water flowing into the Blanco River is safe for recreational use.
“We’ve been facilitating lots of education about the area,” said Jason Pinchback, director of Texas Stream Team. “We want to develop an understanding of what is going on out there and develop a long-term management plan.”
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