Keeping It Real

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

In any event, Chance says things are moving right along. His county has acquired 100 acres for parkland right next to his offices along Spring Creek on the west side of Interstate 45, thanks in part to some land swapping with The Woodlands, Lorenz says.

"This is the first county-owned property in the country that's got an easement on it," Lorenz says. "And the reason that's so important: Just because you have a conservation-minded official in office doesn't mean he or she is always going to be in office. The benefit is that no matter who's in office, that property is never going to be developed. It will always be taken care of."

As for figuring out what's going to be in the greenway once it's set aside, Chance says they haven't gotten that far. "We know it'll be restricted from motor vehicle traffic altogether. There will be hiking and bike trails and probably some horseback trails, I would think. All those things are waiting on when can you financially put them in place."

For years Cypresswood Stables has operated trail 
rides for all ages along the creek.
Daniel Kramer
For years Cypresswood Stables has operated trail rides for all ages along the creek.
Legacy Land Trust's Jennifer Lorenz points to Spring 
Creek as the right way to mitigate wetlands.
Daniel Kramer
Legacy Land Trust's Jennifer Lorenz points to Spring Creek as the right way to mitigate wetlands.

Chance says it's probably going to be a good thing that some of the present activities along Spring Creek disappear.

"There's a lot of four-wheeling that goes on in that tract that actually destroys it, and that's illegal under the last legislative session. Some of those activities do need to be curtailed, in my opinion."

Realizing that the conservationists and the Bubbas were never going to agree on the question of whether Spring Creek is a navigable river, it seemed reasonable to turn to the ultimate authority: the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

Only to find out they didn't know either, even though the law supposedly has been in effect for more than eight months.

William Skeen, a lieutenant game warden with the agency's north Houston office, says he just started receiving complaints about ATVs in Spring Creek in early August. So he and his major went down to the creek to check it out, took photos and sent their information on to Austin headquarters for a ruling.

As Skeen explains it, even that ruling might not be clear-cut. Besides the fact that no creek is a highway, with uniform width, to start with, creeks tend to fluctuate in width depending on rainfall or runoff.

It could be that some parts of Spring Creek meet the navigable criterion (30 feet wide) and others don't. It could be some parts meet that standard on a flood day in June, but not in August's hotter and drier season.

"At some point that creek will stop being considered navigable when it drops below that 30-foot average width. Then at that point this ban on operating vehicles, ATVs, would not apply. But the further south you go, the closer you get to the San Jacinto River, it's obviously a navigable creek and it would be illegal to cross or run down below the gradient boundary of that area," Skeen says.

A week later, the local and state offices had decided, in fact, that Spring Creek is not only navigable but public as well, according to Skeen. "It is public almost all the way up to I-45, so the prohibition against motorized vehicles will be enforced. We will begin writing tickets."

Violations would be a class C misdemeanor on the first offense, punishable by a fine of $25 to $500, Skeen says. Following two previous convictions, this could be enhanced to a class B misdemeanor.

Asked about private property owners who say their rights extend to the center line of the creek, Skeen says: "Their deed may claim they own to the middle of the creek, but the area on top [the water] is public." So according to Texas Parks and Wildlife, private property owners have the right to ride along the creek, but not in it.

"It takes millions to open a park," Johnston says. Especially, says Lorenz, in a state like Texas where "95 percent of land is privately owned." Precinct 4 has to compete for parks funds not only with other counties but with the other three precincts within Harris County, he says, which makes finding other funding sources even more important.

They've just received a $100,000 grant from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to develop a new trailhead at Jones Park, a loop that will bring a new subdivision into easy access to the trail system, he says.

At one point, it was estimated the cost of the land for the Spring Park Greenway would be $4.5 million, but it is unclear whether that included the Montgomery County side as well. Some of the Harris County side was acquired by the county many years ago as undeveloped tracts for future use, Joanye Younts says.

Groups such as the Harris County Flood Control District, the Bayou Preservation Association, the Park People and Legacy Land Trust have worked to secure grant funds, Younts says. So, Harris County itself has spent approximately $400,000 over the last 16 to 18 months on the Spring Creek project, Younts says.

There is also discussion about eventually linking the system to nearby Cypress Creek, where it all started so many years ago.

Everyone talked to agrees that ATVs will be restricted in some ways. Devout ATVers aside, the consensus from everyone else is that they just do too much damage and need to at least be limited to the certain areas they can play in.

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