February 9, 2015
Rumors have been flying across the concrete prairie and through the riparian woods of Buffalo Bayou that what was once a popular boat launch in Memorial Park at Woodway will be opened again to the public maybe by March or April.
And while we have determined that there is not actually a definite plan yet for opening the once-a-boat-launch, we can confirm that there may be some plans eventually to possibly appropriate some money to build handrails for safety and handicapped access, a proper parking lot, and some other stuff that city officials claim are required to make the longtime, popular no-longer-a boat-launch safe again for the public.
The Uptown Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone (TIRZ) 16, which in 2013 expanded to include Memorial Park, will consider funding the improvements “required to open the area as a public access point to the bayou,” Sarah Newbery, Memorial Park project director for the TIRZ 16, said in an email. This budget decision will happen at the next board of directors meeting on February 25, 2015, at 3:30 p.m. in Suite 1700, 1980 Post Oak Boulevard, said Newbery.
Why an unelected semi-private entity controls our public park, we don’t know. But the Uptown TIRZ meeting notices and agenda are posted 72 hours prior to the meeting at the Houston City Hall Public Bulletin Board, at the rear entrance of the City Hall Annex, 900 Bagby. So go downtown and park and find the bulletin board and look on it to see what’s on the agenda. There does not seem to be an online notice.
We can tell you that the Uptown TIRZ 16 2015-2019 Capital Improvement Plan includes nothing for the Woodway “drainage/erosion control” project, not even for maintenance, which is a constant problem, since the badly designed (AECOM) outfall collects mud. However, the TIRZ 16 2015 CIP budget includes $9.5 million for “Memorial Park/Buffalo Bayou.”
The no-boat-launch is the closest access to Buffalo Bayou that allows the public to float downstream through the historic natural area targeted for destruction by the City of Houston and the Harris County Flood Control District. (Hey, but we still put in there under the Woodway Bridge.) Some people suspect city officials and private business interests just don’t want people to see what they plan to destroy. But that would be negative thinking.
What was once a lovely nature trail and put-in/take-out in Memorial Park at Woodway, still listed as a boat launch on the official Texas Parks and Wildlife Paddling Trail, has been closed to the public for two years or more while the area was razed of forest, graded, landscaped, and transformed into a massive drainage outfall by the City of Houston and the Uptown TIRZ 16.
The drainage project, which cost $1.36 million in taxpayer funds, was finished a year ago and has been mysteriously closed to the public ever since.
In fact, this entire lovely, little-known, wooded section of Memorial Park west of Loop 610, known as the Old Archery Range, has been hidden behind locked gates for nearly a decade. Even stranger, some official local government maps no longer include the Archery Range as part of Memorial Park. These include online maps provided by the Memorial Park Conservancy, Google, and the City of Houston, although this City of Houston website does include the park west of 610. The TIRZ 16 map of the boundary extension shows that this forest section of our public park was somehow included as part of the TIRZ 16 before the 2013 expansion.
Please note, citizens, that it is not legal simply to take away public parkland without notice, hearings, etc.
Apparently, while bulldozing the Memorial Park Woodway area for a bigger drainage outfall and “erosion control,” constructing a long, winding access ramp, planting grass and pretty little trees, and installing a solar-powered irrigation system, no one in city government thought about providing access for the public to the water, according to Dewees and Newbery.
However, it looks perfectly accessible to us, especially when compared to other city park boat launches. (See below.)
This part of Memorial Park is included in District G, represented by Houston City Council Member Oliver Pennington. Pennington, at a recent meeting in Briar Forest on Houston’s west side, said that if asked he would be willing to look into the closure of the park and the boat launch. So ask him. Ask him also about Capital Improvement Plan M-261, the City of Houston’s plan to destroy riparian forest to create stormwater detention ponds on the south bank of Buffalo Bayou in the Briar Forest neighborhood.
Pennington is having a meeting with his constituents to explain the Capital Improvement Plan projects for District G. The meeting is Wednesday, February 18, at 6:30 p.m. in the Paul Revere Middle School Auditorium, 10502 Briar Forest.
The former boat launch at Woodway is the only official boat launch for canoers and kayakers between the City of Houston’s Briar Bend Park, which is upstream 3.5 to 4.5 paddling hours away, and the next downstream takeout, which is in Eleanor Tinsley Park 4 to 5 hours away, according to the time estimates provided by Texas Parks and Wildlife.
Here’s a recent photo of the official City of Houston boat takeout at Eleanor Tinsley Park recently constructed as part of the Buffalo Bayou Park project east of Shepherd.
Actually those official paddling time estimates seem way overlong, even at low flow. Really it’s not that long. From Briar Bend at Voss and Woodway way out there to Sabine Street downtown it’s about 5 hours for decent paddlers, even with little current. From Memorial Park at Woodway to Sabine Street it’s about 2-3 hours.
The Woodway drainage/no-boat-launch area is closed in part because it does not have a proper parking lot, says Rick Dewees, assistant director of the Houston Parks and Recreation Department in charge of Memorial Park. (It has an old, environment-friendly water-permeable crushed-rock parking lot that used to be okay to use before we became more concerned about impermeable surface because of extreme stormwater runoff. But it does not have an impervious paved parking lot with lines and curbs and stuff. And if you find the logic of that difficult to follow, it’s not our fault. An impervious paved parking lot would not be an improvement, in our opinion.)
The boat launch at the City of Houston’s Briar Bend Park, by the way, has no parking lot, no handrails, no handicapped access to the bayou. Just makeshift steps through the woods down to the water.
Oh, and by the way, here are the handrails and handicapped access at the boat launch on the south bank of the Sabine Promenade in the City of Houston’s Buffalo Bayou Park far downstream as you enter downtown. No parking whatsoever, even on the street. Handicapped access by rolling down the grassy slope. Same for hauling the boat. And big, ugly handrails that are too fat to grasp.
As one longtime bayou paddler said of that Sabine boat launch, “It’s a cruel joke.”