Maybe the Best Boat Launch on the Bayou
Jan. 20, 2016
Yes, the boat launch in Memorial Park on Woodway at 610 Loop is finally open, and it’s maybe the best boat launch on Buffalo Bayou in the entire city.
This official Texas Parks and Wildlife Paddling Trail access to the river has been closed for more than three years while the City of Houston Parks Department and the Galleria-area Uptown TIRZ razed the forest and put in a huge drainage outfall for stormwater runoff from Post Oak Road. They used our public parkland, even denying for a time that the boat launch was a boat launch, and according to some legal experts, under state law they probably should have given notice and had a Chapter 26 hearing to change the use of our parkland like that.
But the City rarely holds such legally required hearings when it comes to our public parkland.
The $1.36 million Post Oak Road drainage project, planned and paid for with taxpayer money through the Uptown TIRZ, was completed in early 2014. The once-popular boat launch provided the only formal access to Buffalo Bayou through the park and through the historic natural stretch of our 18,000-year-old bayou proposed for destruction and “restoration” by the Harris County Flood Control District and the Bayou Preservation Association. But the launch as well as that entire section of the park west of Loop 610, known as the Old Archery Range, remained inexplicably closed. Closing public access to a navigable stream through pubic land for nearly two years after the drainage project was completed appeared to be a violation of our state constitution. Finally in August 2015 the Uptown TIRZ announced a $219,272.10 plan to open the locked gate, take down the construction fencing, put in decorative fencing and a parking lot (where there had once been a parking lot), and open the launch by mid-December.
It’s open now and although not quite finished, they’ve done a pretty tasteful, practical job of it. The simple wooden railings and gravel parking lot are to be commended. Not so the shiny black metallic fence posts leading down to the river. A natural matte color like green or brown would have been less jarring and more appropriate. Also, why are they mowing the grass on the banks? That’s not only a waste of public funds but also inappropriate for erosion control on riverbanks. Erosion control was the ostensible (if misguided) purpose for taking down the trees and vegetation and installing the massively enlarged drainage outfall. Let the trees and nature take over again! Memorial Park is supposed to be a nature experience.
At least here you can park your vehicle and have room to carry your boat down to the water. Other boat launches in the recently opened and badly eroding Buffalo Bayou Park downstream are not so well designed. There are at least five boat launches on the bayou between Shepherd Drive and Allen’s Landing. (For some reason the official Buffalo Bayou Partnership guide to that popular park has not been updated to include the boat rental and launch at Lost Lake near Dunlavy Street.) Two of these “boat launches” have no place to park and load or unload a boat. And two of them, including the main boat launch at Lost Lake, are so hemmed in by thoughtlessly designed, zigzagging narrow stairways and handrails that it’s difficult to carry a boat to and from the water.
The landscape designer for Buffalo Bayou Park was SWA Group, and it was a principal of SWA Group, Kevin Shanley, former president of the Bayou Preservation Association, who conceived and promoted the idea of bulldozing and landscaping the wild bayou flowing past Memorial Park using the controversial Natural Channel Design methods that are failing in Buffalo Bayou Park.
For the moment the Woodway boat launch is a fairly decent example of understatement, simplicity, and usefulness. (Watch out for the mud.) Be warned, though, that the Uptown TIRZ, the parks department, and the Memorial Park Conservancy have expensive plans to develop the area and put up ugly and uninviting walls made of inappropriate Central Texas limestone.
Watch this brief slide show of photographs taken Jan. 19, 2016, of the once-again boat launch in the Old Archery Range in Memorial Park.
5 thoughts on “Woodway Not-a-Boat-Launch Now a Boat Launch Again”
All these taxpayer dollars spent and they can’t even keep the ramp clean of mud so people can use it? What a disgrace. Keep our bayou natural and usuable for people to enjoy. Quit tearing up the bayou causing terrible erosion consequences. Don’t fix what isn’t broke. Fix our broken streets instead.
The ramp appears to have been designed to collect mud.
The desirability of keeping the bayou “natural” depends on your definition of “natural.” I love nature and enjoy the woods. But in Houston, I’d like a little less naturalness and more storm water capacity in Buffalo Bayou. In Houston, drainage IS broken and needs fixing. Houston desperately needs better drainage because it lacks adequate rules requiring developers to install detention for the increased runoff their projects create. Harris County Flood Control and the Corps of Engineers bar dumping runoff into the bayou faster than the current rate. (I wonder whether the new outfall from Post Oak complies with that restriction or whether that TIRZ got a politically connected waiver.) Flood Control and the Corps say they’re protecting areas downstream. But is the net effect of their effort simply moving flooding upstream, where more and more growth occurs without regional planning or adequate detention. The bayou needs to be reshaped to expand its ability to accept our sometimes torrential rainwater runoff. That doesn’t have to mean more concrete. Detention areas can be park-like and beautiful, as has been demonstrated by the Terry Hershey Hike and Bike Trail on the north bank of the bayou west of Beltway 8. Too many of us selfishly adhere to notions of naturalness that do not fit with a growth-happy boomtown that is, by voter choice, intentionally poorly planned. The result is increased flooding of neighborhoods squeezed between commercial developers (who seldom, if ever, flood) and local and federal restrictions on flow-rates into Buffalo Bayou. We need to face the fact that Houston is flat, has impervious soils and is subject to tropical rains. We need to do the smart thing and take appropriate measures to counter the threat Mother Nature poses. With a little more common sense on the part of nature-lovers (which is all of us), neighborhoods and government, we can have beautiful bayou scenery, great recreational settings AND expanded detention to ease the misery we are imposing on more and more homeowners — not to mention the cost to the federal flood insurance program, one federal program Texans apparently do not hate.
Dear Bruce Nichols,
Thank you for your comment!
Please note that the Harris County Flood Control District project we oppose has nothing to do with increasing drainage in Buffalo Bayou.
As promoted by the Bayou Preservation Association and stated by Flood Control in its permit application to the Corps of Engineers, the Memorial Park Demonstration Project is meant to be an “erosion control” and “bank stabilization” project (though it would do neither). There would be no increase in the stormwater capacity of Buffalo Bayou in this short, historic section of the bayou, which is, by the way, a natural stormwater detention area.
There is no conflict between “naturalness” and protection against flooding. In fact, nature works for us. Forests, for instance, provide the best storm water detention, as well as many other important ecological services, and it is likely for that reason that the flood control district is legally bound by its 1937 charter to conserve forests, a legal requirement that it routinely and foolishly ignores.
We believe in working with nature, rather than against it, for mitigating the effects of flooding. This is the most progressive thinking in this country – because it is the most effective and efficient, and the most protective of the waters that are necessary for life to survive. Even the Army Corps of Engineers is developing standards and policies under the slogan “Engineering with Nature.”
Widening our bayous, as so many call for, would be a boon to engineering and construction contractors, who would be called in repeatedly to dredge the channels and repair the collapsing banks. But widening would do nothing to reduce flooding, which in our Buffalo Bayou watershed happens mainly in the floodplains before runoff reaches the stream. Our federal and local governments have spent hundreds of millions of dollars altering Brays and White Oak bayous, and the flooding of homes in these areas has only gotten worse.
Instead it is the floodplain, not the channels, of our bayous that should be enlarged. And it is nature – trees and vegetation — that should be restored to the banks – to slow runoff and stormwater, shade and cleanse the water that is now so polluted, especially in our concreted streams, and trap plastic and other trash before it reaches the bays. And provide Houstonians with the local experience of nature they so sorely need.
Unless you are referring to releases from the upstream dams in West Houston, it’s unclear what you mean when you claim that Flood Control and the Corps “bar dumping runoff into the bayou faster than the current rate.”
But it is true that the city and county do not effectively enforce already existing requirements that developers provide stormwater detention. And neither does the federal government effectively enforce protection of our wetlands that are also crucial to water quality and floodwater detention.
But flooding is natural and necessary. We cannot and should not expect to “control,” much less eliminate flooding, particularly if we choose to live and work in a floodplain. We can only prepare to lessen the impact.
At least some progress!