The Memorial Park Master Plan and the Survival of Buffalo Bayou

Nobody wanted to mention the strange plan to bulldoze our wild Buffalo Bayou in Memorial Park and they wouldn’t let us put out our flyers at the Memorial Park Conservancy meeting in the El Dorado Ballroom on Wednesday, Sept. 17, 2014, to introduce the beginnings of a new master plan for the park. The previous master plan in 2004 recommended that this last remaining stretch of wild bayou be left alone as a valuable educational tool about nature and its dynamic process. The conservancy, a private, non-profit organization charged with protecting and preserving the 1500-acre park, has decided to ignore that recommendation and supports razing the riparian forest, dredging, channelizing, rerouting, and destroying the ecosystem of this stable, functioning reach of the bayou. Because.

Well, few people understand what the purpose of this bizarre project is, and we have talked to some certified geniuses about it. Proponents call it erosion control, flood control, invasive species control, “restoration,” but none of it explains the massive amount of destruction planned or why they are using long-discredited channelizing methods that likely will result in more erosion, more flooding, and the whole artificially reconstructed bayou washing out, along with whatever native vegetation they plant there.

Read the rest.

Topographic map of Buffalo Bayou on the southern edge of Memorial Park, 2013.

Topographic map of Buffalo Bayou on the southern edge of Memorial Park, 2013.

Learning How Rivers Work and Why Bulldozing Wild Buffalo Bayou Won’t Work

If more city people understood how rivers work, they would know why our wild Buffalo Bayou should be left alone in and around Memorial Park and why the project to bulldoze it is pointless, wrong, and won’t work.

Interested in learning about the living process of a stream and the importance of riparian zones? Want to find out more about proper land use and management to protect riverfront property against erosion?

Save Buffalo Bayou is developing an educational program about urban riparian areas. But the basic principles are the same for streams in the city and in the country. For now you can learn from an expert at Texas A&M.

The Texas Riparian Association is holding a Riparian and Stream Ecosystem Workshop on September 24, 2014, from 8 am to 4 pm at Whites Park Community Center, 219 White Memorial Park Road in Hankamer near Anahuac, about an hour east of Houston.

Read the rest.

Riparian forest on Buffalo Bayou. Photo by Jim Olive.

Riparian forest on Buffalo Bayou. Photo by Jim Olive.

Memorial Park, the Master Plan, and Our Wild Buffalo Bayou

Proposals for a new master plan for Memorial Park will be presented at a public meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 17, from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Eldorado Ballroom, 2310 Elgin Street. Anyone concerned about the future of our great Memorial Park and Buffalo Bayou as it  flows past the park will want to attend this meeting, one of four “update” meetings scheduled about the plan over the next several months.

The prominent national landscape architecture firm of Nelson Byrd Woltz is leading development of the plan. Thomas Woltz, principal of the firm, and his team will share results of their research and analysis, as well as initial design concepts at the Wednesday meeting co-hosted by Houston City Council Members Dwight Boykins and Robert Gallegos.

Do Nothing to Our Wild Bayou is the Best Policy

The last master plan for Memorial Park in 2004 recommended that nothing be done to disturb the natural environment of Buffalo Bayou. After extensive analysis by a team of fluvial geomorphologists and hydraulic engineers, the plan wisely concluded that “the recommended course of action for the Bayou is simply to leave it alone and consider it a symbol of dynamic natural process. The Bayou can serve as a valuable environmental education tool that depicts the change inherent in nature.”

It is not yet known, to us at least, what recommendations the new master plan will make about our treasured last stretch of wild bayou in Houston. However, contradicting the clear conclusions of the 2004 master plan, the Memorial Park Conservancy officially and actively supports the Bayou Preservation Association‘s bizarre project to bulldoze the bayou’s riparian forest, level and grade the banks and cliffs, dredge, channelize, and reroute the bayou. This would forever destroy a valuable and historic natural resource in our great public park, an amazing oasis of riverine wilderness in the middle of the city.

Read the rest.

1915 USGS topographic map of Buffalo Bayou in the area to be bulldozed by a project supported by the Memorial Park Conservancy and the Bayou Preservation Association.

1915 USGS topographic map of Buffalo Bayou in the area to be bulldozed by a project supported by the Memorial Park Conservancy and the Bayou Preservation Association.

Memorial Service for Don Greene, Defender of Buffalo Bayou, Sunday, September 14, 2014

 

A memorial service for Don Greene, defender of Buffalo Bayou and all rivers and streams, will be held at 1:30 p.m. Sunday,

Don Greene on Buffalo Bayou as it passes by the Arboretum.

Don Greene on Buffalo Bayou as it passes by the Arboretum.

September 14th, at the Houston Arboretum in Memorial Park.

The service will have two parts. Guests will gather inside the expanded classrooms and then move outside to Emmott Circle for quiet reflection. Each person will have an opportunity to share his or her thoughts and remembrances about Don, in no particular order.

A reception will follow back in the classrooms.

Don was a past president of the Bayou Preservation Association when the BPA’s mission was still preserving bayous. He was deeply opposed to the BPA’s plan to destroy the last natural stretch of Buffalo Bayou in the middle of the city.

What would the world be, once bereft
Of wet and of wildness?  Let them be left,
O let them be left, wildness and wet;
Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.

—Gerard Manley Hopkins

 

 

Upping Our Game

The alligator snapping turtle lives in Buffalo Bayou. It is listed as threatened in Texas.

The alligator snapping turtle lives in Buffalo Bayou. It is listed as threatened in Texas.

Frustrated with the lack of awareness? Fed up with their deeply misguided plans to destroy the last natural stretch of Buffalo Bayou we have in the city? Angry that they will bulldoze our riparian forest, kill our wild bayou, sacrifice the natural bayou ecosystem, mutilate our magnificent bluffs, and drive the wildlife away to someplace where they cannot survive.

Worried that after they do all that, their fake, landscaped, rebuilt bayou will all wash out? (You should be.)

Interested in hitting back where it will hurt?

We are contemplating some fun-filled, entertaining, and informative picketing and leafleting at a significant event in the next two weeks. This could involve some creative costumes, bright lights, and cameras. It’s still in the planning stages so if you’d like to help plan, create, and participate, email us at info@savebuffalobayou.org.

Talking to Parks and Wildlife Commissioners and Harris County Commissioner Jack Cagle

The high bluff opposite that Jones Nature Center on Spring Creek. The springs on top of this bluff are believed to be the Springs of Santa Rosa, location of villages of the tribe of Canos, an Orcoquisa tribe, one of the least known tribes of North America but mentioned by early Spanish explorers. The bluffs along Spring and Cypress creeks are part of the same Meander Belt Ridges that form bluffs along Buffalo Bayou.

The high bluff opposite the Jones Nature Center on Spring Creek. The springs on top of this bluff are believed to be the Springs of Santa Rosa, location of villages of the tribe of Canos, an Orcoquisa tribe, one of the least known tribes of North America but mentioned by early Spanish explorers. The bluffs along Spring and Cypress creeks are part of the same Meander Belt Ridges that form bluffs along Buffalo Bayou.

What We’ve Been Doing Lately in Defense of Buffalo Bayou

Last week several of us went to the annual public meeting of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission held in Houston this year at the Museum of Natural Science. We wanted to urge the commissioners to protect our wild Buffalo Bayou in Memorial Park and the wildlife that lives in the bayou and its riparian forest.

We found the commissioners who were present attentive, sympathetic, and even encouraging. These included the Honorable Reed Morian of Houston and the Honorable Dick Scott of Wimberley.

Two days later we visited with Harris County Commissioner Jack Cagle during a canoe trip on beautiful Spring Creek in northwest Harris County sponsored by the Bayou Land Conservancy. Commissioner Cagle, a very likable, nature-loving fellow, represents Memorial Park, the River Oaks Country Club, both in the bulldozing project area, as well as points north and west.

Read the rest of this post.

Don Greene, Defender of Buffalo Bayou, Has Died

Don Greene on the water.

Don Greene on the water, c. 2001.

Don Greene has taken his last trip.

Don, beloved and admired by many, was an ardent defender of Buffalo Bayou for more than forty years. He knew its history, geology, and ecology. He was one of Houston’s most dedicated conservationists. Much of what you read here on this website was influenced by Don Greene.

Update Aug. 26, 2014: Read remembrances from Don Greene’s friends in a tribute compiled by Lisa Gray and published today in Gray Matters in the Houston Chronicle.

Don, founder of Whitewater Experience in 1975, educated several generations of people about our bayous and rivers, here in Houston and across Texas and New Mexico and into Mexico.

Just a couple of months ago Don explained the bayou to Channel 13 reporter Ted Oberg in Oberg’s report on the project to bulldoze Buffalo Bayou. You can watch Don on the water with Oberg here.

Here is Don’s obituary in the Houston Chronicle. And watch this slideshow of Don doing what he loved best.

  • Don Greene on the Rio Grande in Big Bend, c. 1976.
  • On the Guadalupe with his Yorkie, Shadow, and friend Cliff Wood, c. 1976.
  • On the road, 1978.
  • Handling the oars in the Grand Canyon, 1981.
  • Don Greene on Buffalo Bayou, c. 2001.
  • On Buffalo Bayou rapids passing Memorial Park in Houston, near the railroad bridge, 2007.
  • Safety instructions before a bayou float trip, British School of Houston, 2007.
  • Don Greene, always safety equipped, right, with fellow bayou activist Frank Salzhandler, on the landscaped banks of Buffalo Bayou in downtown Houston, 2008.

The Bad Things That Happen When You Strip Forest from the Banks of Bayous

 

We Have Forgotten The Wisdom of Our Predecessors

The early settlers knew better than to cut down the trees and vegetation from the banks of Buffalo Bayou and other streams.

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Erosion control by cutting trees and vegetation and disturbing soil along the banks of Buffalo Bayou as it passes by the Houston Country Club.

Even where they set up sawmills along the bayou in the 1820s and ’30s, the mill owners had the common sense to leave the trees standing along the riverbank to protect the land from erosion, says Janet Wagner, chair of the Harris County Historical Commission.

Before that, says Wagner, the indigenous people who lived and camped along the bayou left the riparian forest intact, understanding its importance for holding the banks in place, cleansing and cooling the waters, slowing storm waters, providing fish and wildlife habitat, and much more.

The Harris County Flood Control District, in a wrongheaded plan promoted by the Bayou Preservation Association and supported by the Memorial Park Conservancy and the City of Houston, is proposing to strip most of the riparian forest buffer from some of the last wild banks of Buffalo Bayou in Houston. Known as the Memorial Park Demonstration Project, the controversial $6 million project is demonstrating to landowners up and down the bayou and elsewhere exactly what they should not do to protect their property. Preservation of riparian zones along waterways is both federal and state policy, but apparently the city and the county have not yet understood that message.

Recently the flood control district announced another misguided restoration” project to strip trees and vegetation from the banks of a tributary of Greens Bayou.

The costly experience of the Houston Country Club ought to be instructive. The club not too long ago bulldozed a significant amount of trees and vegetation from the banks of Buffalo Bayou as it passes by the club golf course in Tanglewood. This was a project designed by the engineering firm AECOM, which also designed the failing “erosion control” project in the former Archery Range in Memorial Park at Woodway. A representative of AECOM sits on the board of the Bayou Preservation Association.

Watch this slide show of the disastrous results of razing riparian forest at the Houston Country Club. The photographs were taken on June 27, 2014, and annotated by geophysicist Richard Hyde, a longtime supporter of Buffalo Bayou.

 

Here is another shocking slide show of  photographs taken almost three months earlier on April 2, 2014, of the same, formerly forested area of the Houston Country Club. (See comparison aerial photos below.) The photos were provided by Evelyn Merz, conservation chair of the Houston Regional Group of the Sierra Club. Note in the photos shown above how much more damage had been done three months later.

The flood control district proposes to bulldoze, dredge, and trample with heavy equipment nearly 1.5 miles of Buffalo Bayou and its banks as it flows between Memorial Park and the Hogg Bird Sanctuary on the north and the River Oaks Country Club on the south. The taxpayers of Houston and Harris County are paying $4 million and the country club $2 million for this project.

The Army Corps of Engineers is currently considering whether to issue a permit for the project to the flood control district.

Buffalo Bayou before it was stripped of forest by the Houston Country Club.

Buffalo Bayou before it was stripped of forest by the Houston Country Club.

Buffalo Bayou after forest was razed along parts of the Houston Country Club golf course.

Buffalo Bayou after forest was razed along parts of the Houston Country Club golf course.

Reminder: Meeting With City Council Members Representing Buffalo Bayou

 

Public Meeting with Council Members Pennington and Cohen

It’s about Shepherd Drive, but go and ask why they support the project to destroy Buffalo Bayou.

Plus The Top Ten Reasons They Give for The Awful Project and The Correct Answers

Don’t forget the public meeting  tonight (Wednesday, July 30, 2014) with City Council Members Oliver Pennington (District G) and Ellen Cohen (District C), who represent the wild banks of Buffalo Bayou to be bulldozed by the misguided project known as the Memorial Park Demonstration Project. Even the natives and the early settlers (including mill owners) knew better than to cut down the riparian forest on Buffalo Bayou, recognizing its importance for naturally controlling erosion of the banks, slowing storm waters, filtering pollution and bacteria, trapping sediment, and providing wildlife habitat.

Otter emerging from its den on a tributary of Buffalo Bayou. Photo courtesy of Dewey Stringer.

Otter emerging from its den on a tributary of Buffalo Bayou. Photo courtesy of Dewey Stringer.

Cohen represents Memorial Park, which belongs to all of us. And Pennington, who is running for mayor, represents the south bank of the project, owned by the River Oaks Country Club, stewards of the riparian forest for which it is named since 1923. Pennington also represents that little-known section of Memorial Park just west of 610, now known as the Bayou Woodlands, formerly the Archery Range. There, just off Woodway, a failing “erosion control” project is spewing mud and silt into the bayou. Previously this was a lovely forested ravine with a nature trail. The TIRZ 16, encompassing the Galleria area, now including Memorial Park, and a special kind of improvement district that gets to keep and spend tax money that would have gone into the city treasury, spent $1,147,934 on this particular drainage boondoggle designed by engineering firm AECOM, which also designed the failing “erosion control” project on the banks of the Houston Country Club.

So go and ask these city council members why they support the destruction of some of the last best, healthiest and most beautiful bayou we have in the city. The project would destroy nearly 1.5 miles of the bayou, including most of the forest on both banks, dredging up and rechanneling our lovely, shady stream, obliterating creeks and prehistoric bluffs too old even to contemplate, killing and driving away wildlife, trampling and removing habitat, and so much more that is wrong. The Army Corps of Engineers is considering whether to issue a permit for the project.

The meeting, held in conjunction with the city Public Works and Engineering Department, is from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at St. Anne’s Catholic Church (St. Basil’s Hall), 2140 Westheimer Road. The purpose is to review a paving and drainage project, set to begin in a few weeks, on Shepherd Drive from Westheimer to Buffalo Bayou. So it’s not exactly about the bayou project. But there will be a question and answer period.

Here are the Top Ten Reasons they give for destroying the bayou and how to answer.

 

 

Seeing What Will be Destroyed: Our Article in the Houston Chronicle

 

The Bayou Banks We Could Lose

Once again, a flood-control project threatens Buffalo Bayou

By Susan Chadwick for the Houston Chronicle

July 25, 2014 | Updated: July 25, 2014 3:21pm

We have pulled the canoe up to a clean, white sandy beach on Buffalo Bayou in the middle of the city. It’s still early morning, and all along our slow paddle from the bridge at Woodway great white egrets and a great blue heron fly ahead of us, leading us to our destination: the prehistoric cliffs and forested banks that could soon be obliterated by the Harris County Flood Control District.

It’s a bizarre project, all the more incomprehensible in that the project is primarily promoted by the influential Bayou Preservation Association (BPA), founded in the 1960s to prevent the flood-control district from bulldozing the natural beauty of Buffalo Bayou.

Read the rest of the article in the online edition of the Houston Chronicle. Note: This article also appeared in the print edition of the Chronicle on Sunday, August 3, 2014, Page G4.

Blue heron tracks in the mud on Buffalo Bayou. Photo by Jim Olive

Blue heron tracks in the mud on Buffalo Bayou. Photo by Jim Olive

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