High Bank on Bayou Damaged by Bike Riders

Fools Dug Up Vegetation and Drove Boards Into Top of Bluff

But Boy Scouts Do More Good Deeds, Plant Vegetation

March 7, 2018

Riding a bike along the edge of a cliff above a river is bad enough. Even walking on top of a high bank can be damaging. But the high banks of Buffalo Bayou in Houston’s Memorial Park are already stressed and attempting to recover from the overbank flooding that came with Harvey last summer. Large sections of the bank slid away, taking down trees and vegetation. With time, however, the vegetation will grow back, the downed trees will collect sediment, and the banks will rebuild.

Now that recovery will be much more difficult. In the past weeks, off-road cyclists built a bike jump and wooden ramp right at the very edge of the bank near the main tributary draining the center of the park. This is very near the Bend in the River that Save Buffalo Bayou and photographer Jim Olive have been documenting through the seasons for the past four years.

Bike jump/ramp built on top of high bank of Buffalo Bayou in Memorial Park has damaged the bank. Photo March 2, 2018

 

The culprits apparently removed vegetation, dug holes, and drove large boards into ground. And then, of course, they’ve been pounding the edge of the bank with their bikes. They also dug up dirt to mound it into a jump further down the bank.

Representatives of the Greater Houston Off-Road Biking Association (GHORBA) condemned the construction.

“We would never approve this type of activity,” said C.J. Bernard, trails director for the biking association, in an email. “For anything we do at GHORBA related to trail development and maintenance, we follow the IMBA Sustainable Trails guidelines which highly emphasizes ways to identify potential erosion concerns and provides ways to eliminate and/or minimize.” (IMBA is the International Mountain Bicycling Association.)

“Most likely it is from a mountain biker that isn’t associated with GHORBA, as our trail stewards must approve features before they are built and this one, to my knowledge, was not,” wrote Christy Jones, president of GHORBA, in an email.

The dirt paths through the woods along Buffalo Bayou south of the Picnic Loop in Memorial Park are unofficial trails. However, they are much used by walkers and runners. Other trails in the park are officially open to bike riders as well as others. The neighboring Arboretum, however, does not allow bikers on its paths.

A representative of the Memorial Park Conservancy said the structure would be removed. “We are very grateful that you alerted us to this and will assess and remove the structure ASAP,” wrote Cara Rudelson, chief operating officer of the Memorial Park Conservancy, the private nonprofit organization running the public park. “We always have our eyes out for unauthorized use of the unofficial trails!”

Boy Scouts Plant Riparian Rebar on Bank of Buffalo Bayou

In the meantime, some more positive news: members of Boy Scout Troop 55 are doing good deeds again. This time, under the leadership of Boy Scout Austen Furse, who developed the plan for his Eagle Scout project, they planted 200 buckets of native eastern gamagrass on the upper banks of the ugly stormwater outfall, formerly a nature trail, also known as the Woodway Boat Launch, in the Old Archery Range of Memorial Park west of Loop 610. This happened Saturday morning, March 3.

Eastern gamagrass is an herbaceous stabilizer plant, described as “riparian rebar” and a “big, green leafy cousin of corn.” Though slow to establish, once established, eastern gamagrass can grow to six feet or more and has “extremely good root stability,” according to Your Remarkable Riparian, a field guide to riparian plants found in Texas.

Take note, property owners contemplating ugly and damaging concrete riprap for bayou banks.

Let’s hope the young gamagrass doesn’t get mowed down.

Austen is planning to photograph the site every week or two to document the results, says his mother, Anne Furse.

Boy Scout Austen Furse.

Boy Scouts planting native eastern gamagrass on bank of Buffalo Bayou in Memorial Park. Photo March 3, 2018

Spring 2017 on Buffalo Bayou

Never the Same River Twice

March 18, 2017

Out on Buffalo Bayou early this morning, Saturday, March 18, 2017, with photographer Jim Olive. We were looking for our Spring 2017 shot of the same bend of the bayou we have been documenting for the last three years throughout the seasons. Flow was low base flow, about 150 cubic feet per second. Birds singing. Frogs burping. Squirrels quarreling. Warmth wafting off the water. Was foggier than Jim had hoped, and he had to be patient, as always, for just the right shot. We’d been waiting for a clear morning for days.

For the entire series see A Bend in the River under Photos and Films. This scene is in the historic nature area targeted for destruction and “restoration” by the Harris County Flood Control District, the Memorial Park Conservancy, and the Bayou Preservation Association.

An update on that costly, misguided project, which sadly still threatens, is coming up next.

Morning on Buffalo Bayou, March 18, 2017, shot by Jim Olive from a high bank in Memorial Park looking downstream with River Oaks Country Club property on the right.

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.

Read the rest of this post.

Frank C. Smith Jr., founding president of the board, Save Buffalo Bayou, in Memorial Park on a high bank above Buffalo Bayou. Photo taken May 5, 2016, by Jim Olive.

Frank C. Smith Jr., founding president of the board, Save Buffalo Bayou, in Memorial Park on a high bank above Buffalo Bayou. Photo taken May 5, 2016, by Jim Olive.

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

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.

What’s the Plan for the Hogg Bird Sanctuary?

Meeting Monday, May 9, 2016

May 7, 2016

Anyone interested in the future of that small bit of brambly bird paradise on Buffalo Bayou known as the Hogg Bird Sanctuary will want to attend the public meeting on Monday evening, May 9, near Memorial Park.

The 15.56 acre public park at the end of Westcott Road south of Memorial Drive was donated to the City of Houston in 1958 by the late Ima Hogg as a nature preserve. In 1924 the Hogg Family had sold at cost to the City of Houston the land that is now Memorial Park, formerly a part of Camp Logan. The bird sanctuary is now part of Memorial Park and includes a large parking lot, a visitor center, as well as the entrance to the footbridge that leads across the bayou to Ima Hogg’s former home, now the Bayou Bend Collection and Gardens, a part of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.

In 2014 the sanctuary was listed as one of Preservation Texas’ Most Endangered Places because of the threat from the Memorial Park Demonstration Project.

The meeting is to update the public on proposed plans for the park, for which the Houston Parks Board reportedly has received a $1 million gift. According to the announcement, a steering committee of stakeholders, using the Memorial Park Conservancy’s Master Plan (see page 132) as a starting point, has conducted additional research with consultant Design Workshop and developed new ideas.

Who Is On the Steering Committee?

The individuals on the steering committee varied from one meeting to another, said Catherine Butsch, communications manager for the Houston Parks Board, in an email. “But the groups represented include Memorial Park Conservancy, Houston Parks and Recreation Department and Houston Parks Board along with the Garden Club [of Houston] in an advisory capacity given their active studies of the site [see page 134],” she wrote. “Others consulted as part of the process include the Harris County Flood Control District, Museum of Fine Arts Houston, Houston Audubon as well as the Garden Club and Rice researchers.”

The meeting will take place from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. in the Fellowship Hall of St. Theresa’s Catholic Church, 6622 Haskell Street, on the northeast side of Memorial Park. The Houston Parks Board, along with the Memorial Park Conservancy and the Houston Parks and Recreation Department, is sponsoring the meeting.

For questions email info@houstonparksboard.org.

The Memorial Park Master Plan for the Hogg Bird Sanctuary.

The 2014 Memorial Park Master Plan for the Hogg Bird Sanctuary.

 

A Bend in the River

Photographs of Buffalo Bayou through the Seasons

Dec. 23, 2015

These lovely photographs document the changes in the seasons on Buffalo Bayou, and in the dynamic river itself. Taken (with one exception) by Houston photographer Jim Olive, they were shot from the same high bank in Memorial Park looking downstream with the River Oaks Country Club on the right. This bend in the bayou is in the stretch proposed for destruction and “restoration” by the Harris County Flood Control District and the Bayou Preservation Association, with the support of the Memorial Park Conservancy and the City of Houston.

  • This first summer photo was taken by Susan Chadwick in July 2014. Proponents of Flood Control's destruction/restoration project claimed there was no overhanging tree canopy in the area. River Oaks Country Club on the right.
  • Late fall at sunrise from the same bend of Buffalo Bayou. Taken on Dec. 9, 2014, by Jim Olive from Memorial Park looking downstream.
  • Early spring on Buffalo Bayou at high water. Photo by Jim Olive on March 25, 2015.
  • Summertime view of the same bend in Buffalo Bayou from Memorial Park on August 1, 2015. Photo at low water (base flow) by Jim Olive.
  • Looking at Buffalo Bayou from Memorial Park from the same high bluff on Nov. 24, 2015. Photo by Jim Olive.
  • Sun rising over a bend of Buffalo Bayou at low water on Dec. 10, 2015. Photo taken by Jim Olive from a high bluff in Memorial Park looking downstream with the River Oaks Country Club on the right.
  • Early morning at high water on March 21, 2016, the day after the vernal equinox. The dams in west Houston were open, and water was flowing from the reservoirs at 2,000 cubic feet per second. Photo by Jim Olive, of course, from a high bluff in Memorial Park. River Oaks Country Club on the right.
  • Summer on Buffalo Bayou after the record high water from the spring rains had finally drained from Barker and Addicks dams upstream. Taken on July 8, 2016, by Jim Olive from the same high bank in Memorial Park looking downstream with the River Oaks Country Club on the right.
  • Foggy, warm winter morning on Buffalo Bayou at moderate flow, about 800 cubic feet per second. Photo by Jim Olive on Dec. 13, 2016.
  • Spring 2017, shot by Jim Olive on the morning of March 18 from Memorial Park with birds singing, frogs burping, squirrels quarreling, and warm air drifting up the high bank from the river at low flow.
  • Summer 2017. Flow was about 500 cubic feet per second after a nighttime storm on the morning of July 10, 2017. Slumped bank was healing. Frogs were a courting. Photo by Jim Olive.
  • That bend in the river on Sept. 1, 2017, after Hurricane Harvey dropped record rain all over. Flow was around 12,000 cubic feet per second. Photo by SC
  • The bend in the river on Sept. 11, 2017, around 2:30 p.m. as the floodwaters from Harvey were slowly draining. Flow was about 7,000 cubic feet per second, down from at least twice that. Photo by SC because Jim Olive was flying around taking photos of disastrous flooding all over the Gulf.
  • After the flood. That Bend in the River post-Harvey on Friday, 13 October, 2017, just after dawn. The flood control reservoirs behind the federal dams on Buffalo Bayou upstream had emptied finally and flow had dropped to base flow, about 200 cubic feet per second (cfs). Large amounts of sand and slumping of the high banks. Many downed trees. Photo by Jim Olive
  • Winter photo by Jim Olive on Jan 13, 2018. Flow was about 600 cubic feet per second. Temperature was a chilly 34 degrees shortly after sunrise about 7:30 a.m. The banks were much changed after the floodwaters of Harvey, with lots of slumping, fallen trees and missing vegetation. We could hardly find our spot. Note the buildup of sediment on the opposite bank.
  • That Bend in the River on April 15, 2018. Springtime all over the place. Flow was about 650 cubic feet per second after a brief thunderstorm the day before. Photo by SC
  • A trackhoe on a barge stuck in the sandy channel bottom of Buffalo Bayou at that bend below the high bank in Memorial Park. Maintenance contractor with flood control was removing fallen trees from the banks and channel. Photo by SC May 19, 2018
  • Summer sunrise on Buffalo Bayou. That bend in the bayou on July 1, 2018, with flow at about 280 cubic feet per second. Photo by Jim Olive, of course.

Once-a-Boat-Launch at Woodway to Re-Open by Mid-December

Meanwhile Buffalo Bayou Busy Replanting, Beautifying

Sept. 5, 2015

A contractor has been found at last to take down the heavy-duty chain-link construction fencing, put up some railing, spread some gravel and sod, and restore the informational sign in that western part of Memorial Park that was once a popular boat launch and is now referred to by public officials as a drainage outfall.

Native, edible amaranth in the foreground growing on the bank of the Woodway drainage outfall. Smartweeds, snoutbean, and other plants, mostly native but also some invasive, in the background. Photo Aug. 28, 2015

Native, edible amaranth in the foreground planted by Buffalo Bayou on the bank of the Woodway drainage outfall. Smartweeds, snoutbean, and other plants, mostly native but also some invasive, in the background. Native plants like amaranth and smartweed stabilize the soil and help prepare for new forest growth. Non-native Bermuda and St. Augustine grasses planted by contractors. Photo Aug. 28, 2015

Closed to the public for more than two years, including more than a year after the $1.36 million taxpayer-funded solar-irrigated “erosion control” project was completed, the ugly, massively enlarged outfall draining Post Oak Road is still officially a Texas Parks and Wildlife Paddling Trail boat launch. Previously it was also a forested area with a nature trail.

But officials with the Uptown Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone (TIRZ) 16 now seem genuinely eager to do “what we can to get it open to the public,” said John Breeding, administrator, at the Uptown board meeting in a Galleria high-rise last Wednesday, Aug. 26.

The board voted without discussion to award a contract for $219,272.10 to Jerdon Enterprise, LP, which was the sole bidder for the long-delayed project. With “add-ons” the cost could go to $335,615.10. That seems like a lot of public money for taking down some chain-link fencing, putting up some standard railing, laying down some loose gravel, etc. But apparently no one else wanted to do it.

Work on the Outfall Phase II is now scheduled to begin this month and be completed by December 15, 2015.

And if you’re confused about why a TIRZ and not the parks department or the city council would be making these decisions, well, it is confusing. But the TIRZ has control of the money.

Read the rest of this post.

Immutable Plan. Invisible Rocks.

“Revised” plan to destroy Buffalo Bayou not really “revised” at all.

Project manager says no significant changes to much criticized original plan.

No sandstone in project area, says flood control, contradicting itself.

June 3, 2015

Invisible ancient sandstone in project area at 29°45'35.8"N 95°25'58.6"W 29.759953, -95.432954. Photo by Bill Heins.

Invisible ancient sandstone in project area at 29°45’35.8″N 95°25’58.6″W. Photo by Bill Heins.

Despite the hundreds of comments criticizing the purpose, methods, impact, cost, benefit, and harm of Harris County Flood Control District’s proposed “erosion control” project on Buffalo Bayou in and around Memorial Park, the district has made no significant changes to the plans recently re-submitted to the Army Corps of Engineers.

Jason Krahn, project manager for the controversial Memorial Park Demonstration Project, told Dianna Wray of the Houston Press that the district was “simply following the guidelines” and that there were “no significant changes” to the original project plan.

Indeed, many of the “revised” plan sheets posted by the Army Corps of Engineers on its website appear to have been simply relabeled with new dates, though there are some with new details.

The public has until June 5 to send comments to the Corps about the district’s “revised” permit application and the district’s responses to previous comments. There is no limit on the number of comments one can make. So if you’ve already made a comment, make another!

Read the rest of this story.

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.

Update Thursday, April 2: Houston City Council unanimously approves $3.2 million master plan for $200-300 million landscaping of Memorial Park over next 20-30 years.

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.”

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Springtime on a tributary of Buffalo Bayou in Memorial Park. Photo by Jim Olive on March 25, 2015.

Springtime on a tributary of Buffalo Bayou in Memorial Park. Photo by Jim Olive on March 25, 2015.

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