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

Update on the Beaver

We Tried to Find Out

Feb. 13, 2016

Many people were concerned about the mysterious death of the beaver on the south bank of Buffalo Bayou opposite the Arboretum.

The beaver’s corpse was discovered Saturday, Jan. 30, by a group of Boy Scouts documenting wildlife on the bayou as it passes by Memorial Park, an area threatened by a project proposed by the Harris County Flood Control District and promoted by the Bayou Preservation Association. The project, known as the Memorial Park Demonstration Project, would destroy much of the wildlife habitat along some 1.25 miles of the bayou as it passes by the park and the Hogg Bird Sanctuary. The Army Corps of Engineers is currently considering whether to issue a permit for this project, which would otherwise be prohibited under the federal Clean Water Act.

Yes, there are beavers on Buffalo Bayou, and yes, animals do die. We mourn the loss of any creature. But the circumstances of the death of this beaver, which looked otherwise young and healthy, was puzzling, and there was good reason to try to identify the cause. So several days later, we tried.

An anonymous friend generously offered to pay for a necropsy of the beaver. We contacted a veterinarian who was ready to perform it.  Where to store the body? Someone volunteered her freezer. Another member of our team went out of his way to climb down the banks and locate the beaver’s corpse using GPS coordinates. By chance a veterinarian happened to be in the vicinity, as the area was near an animal clinic on West Loop 610.

Alas, the corpse was too far gone for a necropsy.

One of our naturalist experts said that while beavers do have accidents (chopping down a tree that falls on top of them, for instance) he agreed that the strange place and position of the beaver was suspicious. He suggested that though there were no obvious signs of trauma when discovered,  the beaver might have been shot and tossed. A small caliber bullet hole might not be noticed, he pointed out.

Thus ends the tale of the beaver body on Buffalo Bayou.

Beaver discovered dead by Boy Scouts and guides on Buffalo Bayou, Jan. 30, 2016

Beaver discovered dead by Boy Scouts and guides on Buffalo Bayou, Jan. 30, 2016


Sad News

A Beaver Has Died

Boy Scouts Documenting Wildlife on Buffalo Bayou Make Unexpected Find

February 2, 2016


A beaver dead of unknown causes on the sandy bank of Buffalo Bayou just east of Loop 610. Photo taken Jan. 30, 2016

A beaver dead of unknown causes on the sandy bank of Buffalo Bayou just east of Loop 610. Tool in front of nose for scale is four inches long. Photo taken  Jan. 30, 2016

A group of Boy Scouts researching wildlife on Buffalo Bayou came across a sad scene on a sandy bank opposite the Arboretum last Saturday, Jan. 30.

Paul Hung is a fifteen-year-old Boy Scout from Bellaire who is working with Save Buffalo Bayou on a project to inventory the wildlife on the 18,000-year-old bayou as it flows past the Arboretum, Memorial Park, and the Hogg Bird Sanctuary. The project is Paul’s Eagle Scout Service project, and he had organized a group of six Boy Scouts with Troop 55, Sam Houston Area Council, to float down the bayou looking for and photographing wildlife tracks on the sandy banks. Paul had carefully organized his float trip, checking first to see that the water level was low enough to see the banks, and accompanied by several adults, the group put in at the recently re-opened boat launch in Memorial Park at Woodway west of Loop 610, a wooded area known as the Old Archery Range.

Boy scouts and guides putting in at the Memorial Park Woodway boat launch Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016

Boy scouts and guides putting in at the Memorial Park Woodway boat launch Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016

The group floated round a bend and another, passing under the West Loop 610 bridge, working in pairs in canoes to identify and photograph tracks and record their locations. But on a sandy south bank below a high-rise parking lot, the group encountered something surprising: the corpse of what appeared to be an otherwise healthy beaver.

According to witnesses, the deceased beaver showed no signs of trauma and there were no tracks surrounding the beaver’s final resting place in the sand, which was near an area of willows known for beaver activity.

Deceased beaver on Buffalo Bayou. Photo by Paul Hung, Jan. 30, 2016

Deceased beaver on Buffalo Bayou. Photo by Paul Hung, Jan. 30, 2016

Otherwise, he and his fellow scouts had a “great trip,” reports Paul. They saw an “amazing” amount of wildlife.

“I was surprised by how many animal tracks we found on the Bayou,” he writes in an email.  “My partner and I alone found over 30 tracks. We saw Great Blue Heron, Coyote, Turtle, Raccoon, Beaver, and Great White Egret evidence.

“This gives us a better appreciation of the Bayou, because it is right in the middle of Houston. This is the first of many expeditions on the Bayou. It will take 6 to 8 months to complete [the wildlife inventory], and I hope this will be helpful for Bayou education.”

Save Buffalo Bayou and Paul plan to publish the results of his Eagle Scout Service project as a pamphlet in order to educate the public about the abundance of wildlife living on Buffalo Bayou.





Permeable Paving Can Help Save Us and Our Bayous

Impervious Surface Is  A Major Cause of Flooding in Houston

June 17, 2015

Yes, porous paving does work in Houston. We need to use more of this, on our hot, sunbaked parking lots, on our sidewalks, driveways, patios, and more. (It’s cooler too!)

Storm water runoff is a major problem for our bayous (especially those that have had protective trees and plants stripped from their banks). And impervious surface is the major cause of flooding and contributes to water pollution too. Instead of soaking into the ground (or being deflected by trees and leaves), filtering naturally and slowly through the soil and being cleansed of pollutants, storm water runoff gathers quickly, racing through toxic streets and highways, into drainage systems and pouring all at once into our bayous and creeks.

Here is an interesting and timely article in the Houston Chronicle by the founder of Houston-based TrueGrid, a permeable paving company that even creates permeable grass parking lots.

(Note to Houston park and street planners: we don’t need to have ugly, hot impermeable concrete or asphalt sidewalks to accommodate wheelchairs and runners. TrueGrid makes ADA compliant, permeable sidewalks.)

There is, in fact, also a permeable asphalt, recommended by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

But here’s another interesting fact: in a typical urban residential area, rooftops account for 30-40 percent of the total impervious area. What can you do about that? Individuals can do a lot!

The Houston Arboretum has programs about how to build rain barrels and rain gardens. And here is an EPA slideshow about the importance of rain gardens and how to build them.

As the EPA says, “Slow it down, spread it out, soak it in.”

We don’t need to keep flooding and destroying our bayous, making them into bigger, uglier drainage ditches.

Memorial Park, the Master Plan, and Our Wild Buffalo Bayou

Sept. 15, 2014

Proposals for a new master plan for Memorial Park will be presented at a public meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 17, from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Eldorado Ballroom, 2310 Elgin Street. Anyone concerned about the future of our great Memorial Park and Buffalo Bayou as it  flows past the park will want to attend this meeting, one of four “update” meetings scheduled about the plan over the next several months.

The prominent national landscape architecture firm of Nelson Byrd Woltz is leading development of the plan. Thomas Woltz, principal of the firm, and his team will share results of their research and analysis, as well as initial design concepts at the Wednesday meeting co-hosted by Houston City Council Members Dwight Boykins and Robert Gallegos.

Do Nothing to Our Wild Bayou is the Best Policy

The last master plan for Memorial Park in 2004 recommended that nothing be done to disturb the natural environment of Buffalo Bayou. After extensive analysis by a team of fluvial geomorphologists and hydraulic engineers, the plan wisely concluded that “the recommended course of action for the Bayou is simply to leave it alone and consider it a symbol of dynamic natural process. The Bayou can serve as a valuable environmental education tool that depicts the change inherent in nature.”

It is not yet known, to us at least, what recommendations the new master plan will make about our treasured last stretch of wild bayou in Houston. However, contradicting the clear conclusions of the 2004 master plan, the Memorial Park Conservancy officially and actively supports the Bayou Preservation Association‘s bizarre project to bulldoze the bayou’s riparian forest, level and grade the banks and cliffs, dredge, channelize, and reroute the bayou. This would forever destroy a valuable and historic natural resource in our great public park, an amazing oasis of riverine wilderness in the middle of the city.

Read the rest.

1915 USGS topographic map of Buffalo Bayou in the area to be bulldozed by a project supported by the Memorial Park Conservancy and the Bayou Preservation Association.

1915 USGS topographic map of Buffalo Bayou in the area to be bulldozed by a project supported by the Memorial Park Conservancy and the Bayou Preservation Association.