Late Fall on that Bend in the Bayou

Jim Olive Returns

Nov. 12, 2020

We could say it was late fall by some calendar. If we actually had fall here in Houston, where the temperatures are still summerish, ten degrees above normal, and the leaves fall in the spring. Our devoted photographer, Jim Olive, has been exiled to the edge of the California desert where the temperatures until the end of October have been frequently over 100 degrees.

But recently he was able to return to take the Fall 2020 photograph of that Bend in the Bayou we’ve been documenting through the seasons for the last six years. Jim welcomed the relatively cool weather.

Just after sunrise we drove past the depressing monument that serves as the ugly new east entrance to Memorial Park on Memorial Drive. (And was not included in the 2015 Master Plan. p. 61) Apparently our beloved park is now a cemetery as well as a glorification of golf and wealthy developers, who now dominate management of the park.

Monument apparently announcing the death of Memorial Park at the east entrance to the park on Memorial Drive.

While the park at some 1400 acres is frequently touted as being almost twice the size of New York City’s Central Park, with the recent expansion of the golf course and related buildings and the felling of hundreds of trees, less than half of the land is actually the park that it was when it was gifted to the city nearly a century ago on the condition that it remain natural.

The private Memorial Park Conservancy is spending some $70 million in public and private funds cutting down massive, mature loblolly pines, among other great trees, to make way for their glamorous land bridges. Neighborhood residents report seeing fleeing wildlife hit by cars and desperately seeking shelter in backyards. However, the land bridge/tunnels are sure to attract magazine publicity and landscape architect awards, helping to promote the Uptown/Galleria district, which is now actually running development of the historic park.

The foot of a big loblolly pine on the bank of Buffalo Bayou in Memorial Park. Photo by SC Nov. 6, 2020

But for now the wild woods and trails on the south side near the bayou remain, despite efforts by the Conservancy to block public access. As the central entrance was closed for construction of the land bridges, we entered the park south of Memorial through the crowded, recently opened east gate on the Picnic Loop. We circled around the apparently no longer maintained picnic area with its moldy restrooms, boggy grass, and graceful clusters of oaks dripping with moss, wondering how many of these elegant trees will remain. According to the 2015 Master Plan, this area is to become a Pine-Hardwood Savannah. (p. 88)

We parked and made our way around the offensive fencing put up by the Conservancy to block hikers from using public trails through our public bayou woods that have been open for many decades. Trail users elsewhere in the park have expressed their displeasure with these arbitrary barricades.

Wooden railing and “No Entry” sign tossed into a ravine in Memorial Park. Photo SC Oct. 29, 2020

Stepping along the winding, narrow dirt path, we passed the 100-year-old cement remnants of sewer lines from Camp Logan, the World War II military training camp and hospital set up in the woods and prairie next to the bayou, part of which became Memorial Park. We’d once seen a huge rat snake coiled up in the pipes. And another time we encountered a beautiful coral snake slithering across the path here.

The huge log that once lay across the path has now completely disintegrated. And a rotting loblolly snag once inscribed with the name “Jesus” inside a heart has been cut down.

Despite the elaborate fencing and many signs warning this was not a trail, the soft footpath was clearly well used and even maintained. Mushrooms were growing. Animals burrowing.

Bottle garden next to the trail through the bayou woods. Photo SC Oct. 29, 2020

We reached our customary spot on the high bank. Part of the bank had collapsed, the face slumping down, the roots of plants sticking out. Some people think this is damage and we have to do something to fix it. Other people think this is a natural process, that the bayou can fix itself.

But hardening banks with concrete, for instance, can cause bank erosion elsewhere. It’s a good idea to observe Best Management Practices on riverbanks.

The bayou is naturally widening here, adjusting to increased flows. The river is much more visible and closer to the trail. Based on Google Earth, a rough estimate is that the top of the channel in April 2014 was around 109 feet from upper bank to upper bank. In Dec. 2019 from bank to bank the distance was approximately 150 feet.

The Corps of Engineers wants to widen the channel even further–to 230 feet, and dig the sandstone bottom nearly 12 feet deeper. Be sure to send in your comments about that before Nov. 20. We’ll have more insight for you soon.

Here is Jim’s beautiful fall photo of the bend and another photo looking upstream where the River Oaks Country Club has bulldozed the historic bank and trees and installed concrete and sheet pile, no doubt contributing to increased erosion of the banks in the park across the way.

Looking downstream on Buffalo Bayou from a high bank in Memorial Park with the River Oaks Country Club golf course opposite. Photo by Jim Olive, Nov. 6, 2020

Looking upstream from the same high bank showing roots holding slumped bank and natural sandstone in the stream. Photo by Jim Olive, Nov. 6, 2020

Send your thoughts, comments and concerns about Memorial Park and the Master Plan to comments@memorialparkconservancy.org

And be sure to check out the entire series of Jim’s amazing photographs of our living bayou, A Bend in the River.

SC

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