Frank Smith, Conservationist
A Lifetime of Achievement and Service, Flying, Sailing, Driving with the Top Down
October 16, 2016
The year was 1933. Frank Smith was twelve years old and he had just climbed to the 14,255-foot summit of Long’s Peak while at Camp Audubon in Colorado.
It’s an achievement that still makes him proud. But more importantly, being in the snow-capped Colorado mountains changed the perspective of a young boy born and raised in a flat, humid city, albeit in one of the leafiest, most privileged neighborhoods in Houston.
“They made us pay attention to the flowers and the trees, and study and identify the mammals,” he recalls of his summers at Camp Audubon. “It was the first time my attention was directed toward natural things.” He had learned “a lot of other things,” he says. “But I had never been taught anything about the natural world.”
Those fortunate summers in the Rocky Mountain high forest wilderness during the Great Depression set Smith on a remarkable path of conservation and environmentalism. He read the books of John Muir, founder of the Sierra Club in 1892, including The Mountains of California. That path would lead Smith to found and lead numerous organizations, most recently Save Buffalo Bayou, that have helped protect and preserve bayous and streams, including Buffalo and Armand bayous, Galveston Bay and its estuaries, and create public park lands around the state of Texas. He would work with virtually all of the region’s prominent conservationists, all of them becoming close personal friends. Some of them had been friends since childhood.
But first he would have to grow up, join the Navy, establish several engineering businesses, invent some things, and meet Terry Hershey.
Buffalo Bayou Flooding: A Historical Perspective
Oct. 7, 2016
Louis Aulbach, author of the definitive guide to Buffalo Bayou, will speak on Tuesday, Oct. 11, on the history of flooding in Buffalo Bayou. The free lecture is from 7 to 8 p.m. at the Houston Maritime Museum, 2204 Dorrington St.
Aulbach’s book is titled Buffalo Bayou, An Echo of Houston’s Wilderness Beginnings.
Registration is required. For more information, go here.
New Aerial Photos
Flying Downstream, One Year Later
October 3, 2016
Photographer Jim Olive has gone up in the sky again to photograph Buffalo Bayou in the area targeted for destruction by the proposed Memorial Park Demonstration Project. So we’ve updated our photo page with a few of Jim’s beautiful new photos. We’ll add more as they become available.
These new photos were taken on Sept. 29, 2016, almost a year to the day after Jim last flew over the bayou with his cameras on Oct. 2, 2015.
Watch a slideshow of the new and old photos here, including an overhead shot of the recent destruction of the riparian garden planted by the bayou during flooding at the boat launch in Memorial Park at Woodway. Planting the proper succession of native sedges, rushes, grasses, etc. to anchor and transform the bare sediment is what’s supposed to happen during flooding. Nature knows!
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
Boxes for Bags on the Bayou
Boy Scout Eagle Project Provides Reusable Garbage Bags
Aug. 29, 2016
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.”