Natural Garden on Buffalo Bayou Mowed Down

Native Landscaping Sadly Cut By Mistake

September 26, 2016

We received some upsetting news Sunday, Sept. 25, 2016. The lovely garden planted by Buffalo Bayou on the banks of the outfall/boat launch in Memorial Park at Woodway had been completely mowed down.

Geologist Bill Heins sent us photographs, and the scene was ugly. We’ve been following the evolution of this little patch of paradise in the middle of the city for the past two years. We’ve been learning from the bayou, how it responds and repairs itself, tends to its ecosystem, and we’ve done our best to explain that to others, including our civic and political leaders. Some of these articles can be found here and here.

Most recently, on Sept. 20, we wrote about the invasion of some non-native Johnsongrass that had shouldered its way in amongst the native amaranth (pigweed), smartweed, sedge, groundcherry and other plants that have such a vital natural function: stabilizing the bank, preparing the sediment for new growth, cleansing the water and providing nourishment for a variety of native birds, butterflies, and insects.

We wondered about the wisdom of cutting these native plants on the eroding steep bank adjacent to Woodway. Not only had clumps of cuttings been left to wash into and pollute the bayou, but the cutting itself undermines the ability of these plants to stabilize the bank. Also it’s ugly. And strangely the invasive Johnsongrass was untouched.

Read the rest of this story.

Woodway drainage outfall/boat launch in Memorial Park after cutting. Photo Sept. 24, 2016, by Bill Heins.

Woodway drainage outfall/boat launch in Memorial Park after cutting. Photo Sept. 24, 2016, by Bill Heins.

Interpreting Nature

Stunning Art Show Focuses on Bayou, Water, Bees, and Plants

Sept. 25, 2016

Artists and the natural world is the theme of an inspiring show of photography, drawing, and painting in the lobby gallery of Williams Tower, 2800 Post Oak Blvd, through October 21.

Curator Sally Sprout has organized an exhibition of the work of four artists living in Houston who are “profoundly influenced by the relationship between human beings and the natural world.”

The artists are Penny Cerling, Janice Freeman, Dixie Friend Gay, and Allison Hunter.

It is worth noting that for her paintings Janice Freeman appropriates the photographs of Buffalo Bayou taken by her husband, Geoff Winningham, for his landmark book, Along Forgotten River.

Below are some images from the show, which is free and open to the public and titled “Kaleidoscope: Approaching Nature.”

Penny Cerling, "Blanket Flower"

Penny Cerling, “Blanket Flower”

 

Janice Freeman, "Birds of the Bayou"

Janice Freeman, “Birds of the Bayou”

 

Dixie Friend Gay, "Stone Shore"

Dixie Friend Gay, “Stone Shore”

 

Allison Hunter, from the "Golden Bees" series

Allison Hunter, from the “Golden Bees” series

Bayou Update Update: The Memory of a River and The Importance of Beavers

Beavers Still Active

New Channel is Old Channel

Sept. 23, 2016

An anonymous reader who lives on Buffalo Bayou wrote in to give us a report on beavers and some history on the new channel cut through a sandy point in Memorial Park.

The channel isn’t new at all, the reader pointed out. During the extended high waters following record rains last spring, the bayou cut across a sandy point on the north bank and settled back into the course it used to take back in the 1930s. This is based on property maps from that era, wrote the reader, who lives on the south bank.

Bayous and streams tend to do that: seek out their historic channels, amazingly even when concrete blocks the way. They have a memory. Houston historian and Buffalo Bayou chronicler Louis Aulbach tells the story of the time during Tropical Storm Allison in 2001 that the bayou broke through a concrete retaining wall in Tranquility Garage underneath the Wortham Center. The bayou may have been seeking out its former natural channel, which was filled in and the bayou rerouted in 1927-28. The Wortham Center now stands on top of the original channel, and the garage beneath it would actually be in the old channel.

Aulbach is the author of the fascinating book Buffalo Bayou: An Echo of Houston’s Wilderness Beginnings.

Read the rest of this story.

Cottonwood bark stripped by beavers on a sandy point in Memorial Park. Note that the bark has been only partially stripped. The tree was eventually brought down by the Memorial Day 2015 high waters. Photo 2014 by anonymous human resident on south bank.

Cottonwood bark stripped by beavers on a sandy point in Memorial Park. Note that the bark has been only partially stripped. The tree was eventually brought down by the Memorial Day 2015 high waters. Photo 2014 by anonymous human resident on south bank.

Tracking Wildlife on the Bayou

Boys Scouting Part III

September 20, 2016

Boy Scout Paul Hung rallied his troop for the third floating inventory of the banks of Buffalo Bayou on a recent Saturday morning. Hung is documenting the tracks of wildlife as an Eagle Scout service project, and his fellow scouts in Sam Houston Council Troop 55 are helping.

Hung and other scouts have so far found over 130 tracks of animals including raccoon, beaver, possum, coyote, grey fox, bobcat, great blue heron, egret, otter, nutria, wild boar, and others. The tracks are being plotted on a map, and the information will be published as a pamphlet with the help of Save Buffalo Bayou, which is the beneficiary of the project.

Anyone who wishes to donate to help Paul Hung publish his Buffalo Bayou wildlife pamphlet can do so here.

About a dozen Boy Scouts and adult observers gathered with their Boy Scout wooden canoes at the Memorial Park boat launch at Woodway Sept. 10. It was a steamy morning, and they planned to paddle past Memorial Park and the Hogg Bird Sanctuary all the way to Lost Lake in Buffalo Bayou Park. Hung handed out clipboards and gave instructions for identifying and photographing the tracks and recording their location using a compass app on a cell phone. Nearby was the wooden box, built and recently installed by Troop 55 Boy Scout Saswat Pati, containing reusable bags for picking up trash on the bayou.

Read the rest of this story.

Members of Boy Scout Troop 55 headed downstream to inventory animal tracks on the banks of Buffalo Bayou. Photo Sept. 10, 2016

Members of Boy Scout Troop 55 headed downstream from the Woodway boat launch in Memorial Park to inventory animal tracks on the banks of Buffalo Bayou. Photo Sept. 10, 2016

New Field Guide to Texas Riparian Areas

Learn How Rivers Work

Sept. 7, 2016

The latest editions of Your Remarkable Riparian Field Guide and Your Remarkable Riparian Owner’s Manual now include urban areas and riparian plants found in most of Texas.

These beautifully illustrated publications are extremely useful for those wanting to better understand bayous and streams, how they work, and change and move sediment, what is growing there, and why riparian areas are so important for the health of our waters.

Landowners on the bayou will be interested in the Owner’s Manual written by Steve Nelle, wildlife biologist and conservationist retired in 2011 from the Natural Resources Conservation Service after 28 years. Nelle is now an advisor, teacher, and leader in spreading riparian understanding.

Read the rest of this post.

A tributary and west-facing high bank on Buffalo Bayou in the Hogg Bird Sanctuary. Photo by Jim Olive on Aug. 4, 2016

A tributary and west-facing high bank on Buffalo Bayou in the Hogg Bird Sanctuary. Photo by Jim Olive on Aug. 4, 2016

State of the Bayou

Downed Trees. New Channel. New Riprap. Washed Out Sidewalks, Beavers, and Turtles

But Some Banks Naturally Rebuilding

Does It Make Sense to Repair?

Sept. 1, 2016

Updated Sept. 11, 2016

You could not step twice into the same river. Heraclitus

We finally had a chance recently to float down beautiful Buffalo Bayou to see how things have changed. Our trip took us past Memorial Park in the middle of Houston. We also biked along the bayou through Terry Hershey Park far upstream in west Houston below the dams to see what was happening there.

The good news is that some of the high banks that had slumped in Memorial Park and the Hogg Bird Sanctuary during the Memorial Day 2015 flooding are naturally rebuilding.

The bad news is that the River Oaks Country Club has added more riprap to the south bank, hard armoring the bank with ugly, damaging concrete rubble, including where it should not be.

Nature’s Miraculous Way of Restoring. For Free.

Houston has had multiple record-breaking rains and flooding since the spring of 2015. When Buffalo Bayou overflows its high banks, as it did in the Memorial Day flood of 2015, the banks in places sometimes slump or slide away. This happens when the overflowing water seeps through the ground and saturates layers of sandy clay that liquefy, sometimes causing the bank to give way. Buffalo Bayou is 18,000 years old, and this has been happening for a very long time.

This natural tendency to slump is one reason why we think attempting to engineer these banks as proposed by the $6 million Memorial Park Demonstration Project won’t work. It’s also the reason why we think building and repeatedly repairing sidewalks at the bayou’s edge is wasteful and foolish.

Read the rest of this story.

The same high bank three months later on August 4, 2016.

The south-facing high bank of the Hogg Bird Sanctuary collapsed during the Memorial Day flood in 2015. Now self-restored. Photo on August 4, 2016.

Boxes for Bags on the Bayou

Boy Scout Eagle Project Provides Reusable Garbage Bags

Aug. 29, 2016

Updated

Houston Boy Scout Saswat Pati, a member of Sam Houston Area Council Troop 55, has built and installed wooden boxes to distribute reusable mesh bags for collecting trash on Buffalo Bayou and Spring Creek.

The project is part of a statewide project started by the Nueces River Authority called Up2U. Pati, a sophomore at St. John’s School in Houston, planned and executed the garbage bag project on Buffalo Bayou as part of his service requirement for obtaining the rank of Eagle Scout.

The wooden boxes have now been installed at four locations, including two on the 26-mile long Buffalo Bayou Paddling Trail established by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, which is the official beneficiary of the service project. The two Buffalo Bayou locations are Briar Bend and Woodway.

Officials with Harris County Precinct 3 refused to allow Pati to install boxes at the four Paddling Trail boat launches in Terry Hershey Park. In fact, county maps of Terry Hershey Park do not show any boat launches in the park.

Terry Hershey Park, named for conservationist and bayou preservationist Terry Hershey, is in Harris County Commissioner Steve Radack’s Precinct 3.

However, in cooperation with the excellent Bayou Land Conservancy, Commissioner Jack Cagle did allow Pati’s garbage bag boxes to be installed at two locations on Spring Creek in Precinct 4. Those  two locations  are Pundt Park and the Jesse H. Jones Park and Nature Center. Precinct 4 also includes Buffalo Bayou as it flows past Memorial Park.

“With these Up2U bags, people will be able to clean up the river while they paddle,” Pati wrote in a letter to Save Buffalo Bayou, which contributed to the project. “Users will make their own impact on the river. By doing this, I hope to increase the awareness of the condition of Houston’s bayous and to equip all people to fix it.”

Installing a handbuilt wooden box for reusable mesh bags to collect trash on Buffalo Bayou. At the Woodway boat launch in Memorial Park, part of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Buffalo Bayou Paddling Trail.  From  to right: Boy Scouts Jonah Pesikoff and Saswat Pati, Assistant Scoutmaster Janice Walden, and Boy Scout Dad Debananda Pati.

Installing a handbuilt wooden box for reusable mesh bags to collect trash on Buffalo Bayou. At the Woodway boat launch in Memorial Park, part of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Buffalo Bayou Paddling Trail. From left to right: Boy Scouts Jonah Pesikoff and Saswat Pati, Assistant Scoutmaster Janice Walden, and Boy Scout Dad Debananda Pati.

 

 

 

Cool Off With Geology Classes On The Bayou

A Good Time for Floating with Tom Helm

August 13, 2016

You may think it’s way too hot to go outside. But it’s actually much cooler down on the bayou, thanks to the water and the shade from overhanging trees.

Also it’s free of mosquitoes since the damselflies eat them up. Nature works that way. Bats eat mosquitoes too. Mosquitoes don’t breed in flowing water anyway.

So now is the perfect time (unless it’s raining) to cool off and learn about the amazing geology of one of the last natural stretches of our 18,000-year-old Buffalo Bayou as it flows past Memorial Park.

Canoeing on Buffalo Bayou past Memorial Park. Photo Aug. 4, 2016, by Jim Olive.

Canoeing on Buffalo Bayou past Memorial Park. Photo Aug. 4, 2016, by Jim Olive.

Float for a couple of hours through this historic nature area with geologist, naturalist, and river guide Tom Helm. Tom will explain the ancient sandstone formations and high Pleistocene bluffs, the patterns in the sand, why the river changes course and how sediment taken away from one side gets deposited on the other. And much more. See mole cricket tracks and watch diving hawks! Witness the grace of a great blue heron flying in front of your canoe!

Right here in the middle of Houston.

Tom takes care of everything. Look under Classes at the top page of this website. Or contact Tom directly. Scheduling is flexible so arrange a time that suits you and your family and friends.

Get outside, have a good time, and learn something new! The water is low now so the sandstone formations and sandy banks are visible.

But if it’s raining or the flow is too high, classes will be postponed.

Enjoy Your Flood!

County Commissioner Provokes Wrath of Flood Victims

Aug. 8, 2016

Updated Aug. 9. Radack Doubles Down, Stands His Ground. Read Here.

Harris County Precinct 3 Commissioner Steve Radack has unleashed a flood of outrage by telling an audience of several hundred citizens in an area of the city heavily damaged by flooding that “some people enjoy flooding.”

Harris County Commissioner Steve Radack telling flood victims that some people enjoy floods because they get new cars and remodeled homes. Image courtesy of Cynthia Neely, Aug. 4, 2016.

Harris County Commissioner Steve Radack telling flood victims that some people enjoy floods because they get new cars and remodeled homes. Image courtesy of Cynthia Neely, Aug. 4, 2016.

The large audience at a meeting of the Cypress Coalition Thursday, Aug. 4, gasped and groaned when Radack took the podium, waved his hands, and said that “some people frankly over the years, in the years I’ve been doing this, that frankly enjoy floods about every seven years, because they want new cars, they want their homes redone.”

Only Rain Causes Flooding!

Cynthia Neely, board member of Residents Against Flooding (RAF), was at the meeting at the Metropolitan Baptist Church with RAF Chair Ed Browne. She reports that both Radack, who’s been in office for 27 years, and Mike Talbott, retiring director of the Harris County Flood Control District, blamed Mother Nature for flooding.

Read the rest of this post.

It’s Not Dead Yet

Flood Control Still Pushing Costly, Destructive “Stabilization” Project on Buffalo Bayou

July 31, 2016

It’s a pointless, wasteful, ill-conceived, and maybe illegal project to rip up and raze trees and plants and wildlife habitat, dig up the banks, plug up tributaries, dredge and reroute the channel along one of the last natural stretches of Buffalo Bayou in Houston. This is a dreamy stretch of the river in the middle of the city, filled with beaver, otter, alligators, fish and flying creatures, and even edible plants.  It flows for more than a mile past our great public Memorial Park, a natural detention area and significant geologic site that features very old high bluffs and sandstone formations. All of which would be obliterated.

And after almost three years of adamant public opposition, the Harris County Flood Control District is still promoting the project, which will cost the taxpayers at least $4 million plus, not including future costs of maintenance and repair.

It’s mystifying why they want to do this, why they think it would even work, why they don’t realize that the bayou would wash it away or that it would simply all slump away, as has happened in Buffalo Bayou Park downstream, where taxpayers are footing the ever-mounting bill for constantly repairing the banks dug up and stripped of trees and vegetation by Flood Control.

Do They Not Have More Urgent Problems?

Surely, the flood control district has more urgent problems that require our hard-earned tax money. Harris County is one of the most flooded places in the country. And this project, billed as a “stabilization” and “bank restoration” program, will do nothing to address flooding and could even make it worse. The county should focus on the hundreds of miles of channelized bayous and streams unwisely covered in now-aging concrete that should be restored to something more natural and beneficial.

The project, called the Memorial Park Demonstration Project, was first proposed in 2010 by the Bayou Preservation Association under then board chair, Kevin Shanley, landscape architect and principal with SWA Group, the firm responsible for the ugly, obtrusive bridges, collapsing sidewalks, poorly-functioning dog park and non-functioning faux Hill Country fountain and stream in Buffalo Bayou Park.

Read the rest of this post.

Excavate fill

This map prepared by the Harris County Flood Control District shows the areas to be excavated (yellow) and filled (orange) in the proposed Memorial Park Demonstration Project. Note also the rerouting of the channel. Memorial Park and the Hogg Bird Sanctuary, including a tributary, are on the north, with houses in between. The entire south bank is River Oaks Country Club golf course.

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