Keeping It Real

Spring Creek stands poised to ride into history, one way or another

A year ago, the Dials were even talking to Eversole about operating a concession in the park for horseback rides. The dream was to allow people to trailer in their horses and ride, Dial says. Now it's as if those talks never happened.

"We've been using it for 20 years," Dial says. His wife adds: "If I got closed off to the west, it would basically shut us down." That's because they own only ten acres themselves, on which stands their barn with its 46 horses, house and arena. Clientele from around the globe come in for the chance to ride with them. Darolyn is a four-time national champion in endurance and needs her practice space -- something that's not going to be achieved by going around and around an arena.

Development is already creeping up on them. A massive subdivision is being put in across the street. They've made an agreement with the developer to be able to use what greenway is left.

Hummers on parade -- along the ecologically sensitive 
wetlands of Spring Creek.
Hummers on parade -- along the ecologically sensitive wetlands of Spring Creek.
County Commissioner Jerry Eversole, with his chief of 
staff Joanye Younts, has been the driving force behind 
the project.
Daniel Kramer
County Commissioner Jerry Eversole, with his chief of staff Joanye Younts, has been the driving force behind the project.

Eversole, who roped for more than five years and took up cowboy-mounted shooting about four years ago (contestants shoot at balloons while riding horses; he goes to New Mexico to do this), says he wants to find a place for horses along the creek project, but isn't at all sure horses and pedestrians on trails is a good mix.

According to Younts, "that issue is under review to determine what area will work well for horses." Whatever she was or wasn't saying before, as of mid-August she was stating that "We are working in the direction to accommodate equestrian trails."

For four years in the 1980s, Dennis Johnston and his wife lived on the grounds of Jones Park & Nature Center. Initially a volunteer when it opened in 1982, Johnston was hired on within months and worked his way up through the ranks.

He's explored the grounds for years, on foot and by ATV; he knows the unmarked lanes left behind by long-departed logging trucks as well as if they had signs and streetlights on them.

Just named the Precinct 4 Parks administrator, he has put a lot of effort into making the green-space project happen. He credits Eversole with urging his staff to think larger, to work toward a much grander green space than they first proposed.

Keeping Spring Creek as intact as possible isn't just for good looks. The watershed's sand filtration serves as a kidney, Eversole says. Upland is nothing but commercial development; runoff from nearby stores and businesses is cleansed when it goes through the sand.

According to Lorenz, setting aside larger amounts of land for mitigation does far more to protect the wetlands than the usual practice of building a detention pond. "What most developers do is they'll go in and they dig a hole. They call it a wetland. They'll plant a cypress tree or two. That's how they mitigate," Lorenz says.

"Thing is, wetland soils take millions of years to form," she says. "You are not going to make a wetland by digging a hole and putting a few plants in."

Instead, she and Johnston point to what Target has done as an example of mitigation that really works. Near its new store at 59 and Townsend Road, Target bought 44 acres of mitigation land and, in another project, bought 75 acres in Montgomery County by Curry Lake.

In other cases, she says, the counties pay for conservation easement rights, which at 75 percent of the worth of the land, are still far less expensive than condemnation proceedings, which cost about twice as much. Harris County has had to do that once in this project. With a conservation easement, the owners still own the land, but agree that it will never be developed, an agreement that transfers to any subsequent ownership.

Along Spring Creek, Lorenz says, "our goal is not to do little mini-green islands. The goal is to put the habitat together." They've been working with developers from Spring Trails, a master-planned community off the Hardy Toll Road that instead of building "mini-ranchettes" is putting in more densely packed homes with immediate access to the trails and wetlands, she says.

"When it's all finished, these people can walk over to this monstrous green that's been set aside rather than have them all saint-augustine a large lot," Lorenz says, adding that saint augustine takes out the natural habitat.

The Spring Creek project has a historic cousin in the Clear Creek Project started in 1982 by state Senator Jon Lindsay when he was county judge of Harris County. Several tracts of land were purchased, Mercer Arboretum & Botanic Gardens and Jones Park were developed, but things stalled after that as federal funding dried up, until Eversole got involved, Johnston says.

Montgomery County Commissioner Chance got in touch with Eversole when he heard what Harris County was doing. "It just seemed like a natural fit," he says. It was a rather giant step; in his 18 years as a commissioner, Chance says, he's never heard of anything of this magnitude. In mid-August, Chance hired staff attorney Robert Collins for the new position of Spring Creek project coordinator for Montgomery County.

Chance sees the land acquisition taking at least another five years. Eversole hopes it can be completed in one. Harris County has been working at it longer, but Montgomery County is looking at an area less developed on its side of the creek, which may make land acquisition easier.

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