The Memorial Park Master Plan and the Survival of Buffalo Bayou

September 20, 2014

Nobody wanted to mention the strange plan to bulldoze our wild Buffalo Bayou in Memorial Park and they wouldn’t let us put out our flyers at the Memorial Park Conservancy meeting in the El Dorado Ballroom on Wednesday, Sept. 17, 2014, to introduce the beginnings of a new master plan for the park. The previous master plan in 2004 recommended that this last remaining stretch of wild bayou be left alone as a valuable educational tool about nature and its dynamic process. The conservancy, a private, non-profit organization charged with protecting and preserving the 1500-acre park, has decided to ignore that recommendation and supports razing the riparian forest, dredging, channelizing, rerouting, and destroying the ecosystem of this stable, functioning reach of the bayou. Because.

Well, few people understand what the purpose of this bizarre project is, and we have talked to some certified geniuses about it. Proponents call it erosion control, flood control, invasive species control, “restoration,” but none of it explains the massive amount of destruction planned or why they are using long-discredited channelizing methods that likely will result in more erosion, more flooding, and the whole artificially reconstructed bayou washing out, along with whatever native vegetation they plant there.

Thomas Woltz of the landscape architecture firm Nelson Byrd Woltz presented his general ideas for unifying the various pieces of the 90-year-old park, including a dramatic land bridge over Memorial Drive to connect the north and south parts of the park. He described the bayou as a “highly managed hydrologic system” and mentioned slumping banks and invasive species, all buzzwords for proponents of bulldozing the wild bayou, who include his employers: the conservancy and the Uptown TIRZ 16. The TIRZ is spending over $10 million in taxpayer funds on planning and “equipment” for Memorial Park and Buffalo Bayou in the next four years, and plans to spend some $100-150 million on the park in the next 10-15 years, according to panelists at the meeting.

In the meantime, the park’s modest maintenance budget ($1.3 million annually?) comes out of the city’s general fund, supplemented by the conservancy, said Shellye Arnold, executive director of the MPC.

Barrancos, Breaks, and Boardwalks

There were some interesting presentations by members of the planning team, including John Jacob of the Texas Coastal Watershed Program who spoke about the fascinating geologic history of the park. Among other things, Jacob talked about the “breaks” or slopes that come down to the bayou, the extensive tributaries—he called them barrancos—plagued by erosion from runoff in the park, and the fact that so much of the park is wet. There was intriguing mention of boardwalks, wetlands, prairies, and post oak savannahs.

Written questions were taken, and some of them were answered, including one of several about the position of the planners on the project to kill the bayou’s ecosystem. Arnold explained that the conservancy board thought about it a lot before supporting the bulldozing plan. To some applause from bayou supporters in the audience, Jacob said he hoped to preserve the wild bayou for future generations, including his own grandchildren.

This was the first of four public meetings to present the new $1 million-plus master plan, which is still under development. More details and graphics are to be available at, according to Joy Bailey Bryant, consultant with Lord Cultural Resources.

Topographic map of Buffalo Bayou on the southern edge of Memorial Park, 2013.

Topographic map of Buffalo Bayou on the southern edge of Memorial Park, 2013.

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