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.
Your Time Is Up: Cohen Cuts Off Criticism of Costly Memorial Park Plan
What’s the Rush?
Full Council to Consider Unfinished $3.2 Million Plan Wednesday, April 1
Public Comments to Council on Tuesday, March 31
March 29, 2015
Update Monday, March 30: Council Member Steve Costello’s office has responded that as a member of the board of directors of the Memorial Park Conservancy, he will recuse himself from voting on the proposed master plan.
Public comments were limited to two minutes due to the large number of people signed up to speak on the city’s proposed master plan to spend $200-300 million on Memorial Park. A few of the nine members of the council’s Quality of Life Committee, chaired by Ellen Cohen, met last Wednesday afternoon to hear Parks Director Joe Turner and landscape architect Thomas Woltz present the ambitious, vague, and costly master plan for the 1500-acre-plus woodland park.
Dozens of people spoke in favor of the plan. Most of them were members of the board of or connected to the Memorial Park Conservancy, and many of them, users of the park, gave moving testimony about their reasons for joining the conservancy: the devastating impact of the 2011 drought, which has killed more than half the trees in the park.
But there were also strong critics of the unfinished $3.2 million proposal, which so far does not seem to be an actual written plan specifically identifying and prioritizing what should be done and when, two key elements for a successful master plan, according to a recent report on urban park conservancies from the Trust for Public Land.
A large contingent of critics were residents or property owners adjoining the park concerned about the increase in traffic, noise, lights, and people using the park. A smaller group of conservationists also expressed concern about the increase in traffic and parking, the loss of trees and natural areas, the expense, inappropriate planting plans, and lack of detail about costs and maintenance. It was suggested that new facilities be placed instead in new parkland purchased with some of the millions of public dollars to be used for the project.
The new master plan proposes to increase parking by thirty percent. However, the 2004 master plan for the park, much of which has never been carried out, identified parking lots as “undesirable intrusions on the natural landscape” and recommended “no net change to the quantity of daily use parking spaces” in the park. To manage peak demand, the 2004 plan recommended the use of shuttles and the construction of “an ‘over-flow only’ parking using environmentally sensitive construction techniques along the rail and power line right of way.”
Opponents of Bulldozing Wild Banks of Buffalo Bayou Shut Out of Meeting
Oct. 30, 2014
Nobody Was Pepper-Sprayed But Door-Holding Constables Didn’t Smile Either
The unsurprising vote was 18-1 Monday, Oct. 27, 2014, in favor of stripping the forested banks, dredging, channelizing, and rerouting the last natural stretch of Buffalo Bayou as it flows past our great Memorial Park in the middle of Houston.
The Harris County Flood Control Task Force, dominated by engineers, builders, architects, bankers, developers, and realtors, voted behind closed doors on secret ballots to spend $4 million in tax money to make our wild Buffalo Bayou a bigger drainage ditch for development of west Houston. That seems to be the gist of it. Along with helping the River Oaks Country Club shore up the banks of its currently being renovated golf course. The club, which owns half the property in the project, is contributing one-third of the $6 million cost.
Whether the experimental project will work is another question. But hey, if it washes out, it’s only beautiful public parkland and a stretch of the river that teaches us the healthy benefits of what natural rivers do.
Evelyn Merz, the Sierra Club representative, cast the lone opposing vote. Representatives of the Citizens Environmental Coalition and the Audubon Society did not attend the meeting, as far as we could tell. The representative of the League of Women Voters apparently voted in favor.
Task Force Chairman Ranney McDonough of McDonough Engineering refused to allow Merz to speak, though she tried.
“It wasn’t always like that,” recalls Frank C. Smith Jr., past chairman of the task force, who was allowed into the meeting as a guest of Merz. In the past, says Smith, the task force was more evenly balanced between development and environmental interests.
The thirty-one members of the little-known task force, founded in 1973 through the efforts of citizen activists like Smith, are appointed by the Harris County Commissioners’ Court. It is an advisory body, and the vote Monday was symbolic. A committee of the task force, appointed to “investigate” the controversial project, voted 5-1 in favor of it Oct. 15. Again, Merz was the only negative vote.
The Army Corps of Engineers is considering whether to issue a permit to the Harris County Flood Control District for the project, known officially as the Memorial Park Demonstration Project.
The Houston city council has already voted to waste $2 million on destroying an irreplaceable natural resource in the middle of the city. However, councilmembers must eventually vote on whether the test experiment (the often-failing techniques haven’t been proven to work on a river like ours) is a legal taking and use of public parkland according to state law.
So let your city council representatives know what you think about that.
A Bold Stand on Buffalo Bayou from A Long-Time Conservationist
It’s time again to stop the bulldozers on the bayou
Flood-control plans are a ‘tragic, misguided, destructive experiment’
October 24, 2014 | Updated: October 24, 2014 5:22pm
I feel responsible.
In 1966 Terry Hershey asked me to join with her, George Mitchell, and then Congressman George Bush in their campaign to stop the Army Corps of Engineers and the Harris County Flood Control District from bulldozing the natural banks of Buffalo Bayou near our homes on the west side of Houston.
At the time none of us knew what we know now: that the trees and vegetation that grow on the bayou’s banks are so important to the quality of our water, to erosion and flood control. We just knew that we preferred and respected nature. My house backed up to the bayou, and I let the enchanting forest back there grow wild. I was one of the only homeowners in our small neighborhood on the river who never had problems with erosion. Others who cut down the wild trees and plants saw their backyard gardens and lawns wash away.
We stopped the bulldozers on the bayou back then, and at other times too over the years. The organization that we formed became the Bayou Preservation Association, and eventually I became the president of it. I am still on the executive committee of the BPA, as it is called, though the organization no longer serves the cause of preservation. The BPA has lost its way.