When is a Public Boat Launch Not a Public Boat Launch?
November 6, 2014
A boat launch is no longer a boat launch after the City spends $1.3 million designing, building, and landscaping it and doesn’t include access for the people and their boats.
That’s the explanation from representatives of the parks department and the Uptown TIRZ 16 for why the once-popular official Parks and Wildlife boat launch at Woodway in our Memorial Park remains fenced-off and closed to the public more than six months after it was transformed into a massive drainage outfall.
Coincidentally, being able to put in at Woodway allows the public to float down Buffalo Bayou through the historic natural area that the City and County want to obliterate. That nearly 1.5-mile stretch of the river further downstream is one of the last remaining wild reaches of our 18,000-year-old mother bayou. So keeping the put-in closed makes it more difficult for people to see the majestic very old cliffs, lovely forested banks, and sandy beaches of this little known wilderness area that will be destroyed.
Officially it’s not a boat launch at all, which is why it is closed, although it might be a boat launch again sometime in the future, according to Rick Dewees, assistant parks department director in charge of Memorial Park, and Sarah Newbery, the Uptown TIRZ 16 project director for the Memorial Park Master Plan. The Uptown TIRZ 16 financed the project at Woodway with taxpayer funds.
But wait, what’s that gently sloping, winding paved ramp leading down to the water?
That’s not for people; that’s only for maintenance trucks, said Dewees. Newbery agreed.
People Not a Priority, says the Parks Department
Officially the project, completed last spring, was for “erosion control” and installation of a new, bigger outfall for increased drainage, pointed out Dewees and Newbery. Trees were cut down (erosion control!), and the new outfall was dug out of the formerly wooded ravine that once featured a nature trail. A park kiosk with information about the area was removed.
For some reason, despite the fact that it’s a public park and was a popular boat launch and nature area, nobody in government planned for people to use it, said Dewees and Newbery.
However, it looks perfectly usable—when it’s not covered with mud.
And a lot of mud from the bayou collects there. So the drainage/erosion control project does need a lot of maintenance. The mud is scooped up and deposited under the adjacent Woodway Bridge, there to wash out unseen back into the bayou.
Strangely, neither Dewees nor Newbery had any idea who was maintaining the drainage/erosion control project by scraping up the mud.
TIRZ 16 doesn’t do maintenance, only capital improvement projects that require hiring companies like SWA Group, the landscape architecture firm that designed the landscaping, and apparently the maintenance ramp, for the not-for-people project. AECOM was apparently the engineering firm that designed the powerful outfall to shoot water directly across the river at the opposite bank, eroding the bank and blocking the flow of the bayou like a dam.
SWA Group, then headed by Kevin Shanley, also designed the Buffalo Bayou Partnership’s Buffalo Bayou Park project east of Shepherd that removed a great deal of natural riparian vegetation. Shanley, a former president of the Bayou Preservation Association, was a creator and major proponent of the controversial plan to bulldoze the natural bayou further downstream. The Army Corps of Engineers is considering whether to issue a permit to the Harris County Flood Control District for that $6 million boondoggle.
Protecting People from Themselves
But still, why keep the not-a-boat-launch off-limits? Why is this entire Woodway area of the park, formerly known as the Archery Range, closed-off behind locked gates? There are lovely woods there, old ruins, and an enchanting spring-fed pond.
Well, to protect the public, said Dewees. “It’s strictly a safety issue,” said Newbery.
People could fall down on the gently sloping ramp walking down to the water, said Dewees. Also because there isn’t any “permitted” parking—although there is a parking lot, just not an official parking lot—the whole area has to be closed.
“You can park a vehicle there but it’s not what city permits call a parking lot,” said Dewees. So that’s not safe.
Also handicapped access. Guard rails. And teenage boys trespassing and doing things, said Newbery.
Dewees wasn’t sure when or why the woods and pond of the former Archery Range were fenced off. (There is an older fence within the newer, heavy-duty fence blocking access to the area.) Or why the woods remain closed to the public. But taking down the new, very permanent-looking fence is “not my decision.” Whose decision would it be? “Multiple people in the department.”
Dewees was unaware of a paved path through the woods, parallel to 610, that until about ten years ago was used by boaters to launch their boats into the bayou beneath the 610 bridge. Remnants of the path remain visible under the overgrowth.
Newbery said the entire Archery Range area remains closed to the public because “people need to be kept safe” while the Memorial Park master planners decide what to do with it.
But a project to fix the “safety issues” and eventually open up the not-a-boat launch to the public is “in the planning and design stage” and “there’s money for that,” she said.
Is the parks department in favor of a canoe launch in Memorial Park? “I think so. I think we are,” said Dewees.
But the city is not “in the canoe launch business,” he said. “From Sabine to Shepherd, people do that. But the parks department does not have any canoe launch locations. We’ve allowed people to launch from parks, but we do not have canoe launches.”
Reminded that there are at least three canoe launches in the city’s Buffalo Bayou Park east of Shepherd, Dewees said, “Hmm. That’s news to me.”
The Memorial Park Conservancy, Houston Parks and Recreation Department and the Uptown Houston TIRZ are holding the second of four community meetings Monday, Nov. 10, 2014, about proposals for the new $1.8 million Memorial Park Master Plan.
The meeting will be from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. in the White Oak Conference Center, 7603 Antoine Drive, 77004.