Paddling the Ship Channel
Awestruck: I am in awe of the dangerous task that canoeist Tom Helm, photographer Daniel Kramer and writer Josh Harkinson took on to do this article ["Dark Water," July 20]. As a retired employee of the chemical industry, I have always had an interest in what secrets lurk in uncharted waters traveled by only giant vessels. Josh wrote a great article combining the history of events of days past. Daniel did a great job photographing the event (people, let's find a damn trash can). The pollution is a canker that can only fester in our future. And congratulations to Tom Helm for helping to put this excursion together.
For 35 years I have known for a fact of the seven unknown viruses that breed in this water, having had a friend who got drunk and fell off a Puerto Rico partying vessel and was rushed to the emergency room for detoxification. I think everyone should heed this article as the most important documented information ever done on what we all know and choose to ignore. And hats off to your staff for having the balls to risk their health and lives to go out there and get the untold story. In reading the article, I felt I was in the kayak with them. I could smell the pungent odor of death and had the disgusting taste in my mouth and cringed when they stepped on the oil/bug/ant-infested, polluted earth. Thanks for the two days the guys gave us. I know they were descending into hell on earth right here from the beautiful Uptown Galleria area to our beloved beach on Galveston Bay.
Go upstream: I'm writing this letter to clear up what I think may be a misconception resulting from this story. While Josh's accounting of the events that transpired during our expedition is 99 percent accurate, and the Ship Channel is definitely deserving of hellish metaphor, some readers may get the impression that Buffalo Bayou is synonymous with "toxic trash pile." While it is true that the reaches of Buffalo Bayou downstream of downtown get progressively more disgusting (see the cover shot of me floating amid the garbage in the Turning Basin), the upstream section of the bayou from Shepherd all the way to Highway 6 is surprisingly clean, full of wildlife and enjoyable to paddle. But that's not what the story was about -- the point was to retrace the steps of the original explorers and settlers of Buffalo Bayou, and it just so happens that most of this activity in the 1820s and 1830s took place in the area now known as the Ship Channel. Anyway, I don't want people to get the wrong idea about Houston's hometown river -- it's a natural treasure to be preserved and enjoyed, and I paddle the upstream section as often as possible.
And for those of you who have asked, no, I will not be paddling the Ship Channel again, and no, I can't recommend that anyone else do it either!
Wannabe paddler?: Clearly Josh Harkinson doesn't know Shinola about canoe paddling, even after his exposure to the, uh, rest of the phrase. He needs lessons, as do all wannabe paddlers. Red Cross and American Canoe Association paddling lessons are available in Houston (see www.houstoncanoeclub.org) and are highly recommended for anyone wanting to paddle any stream or bay, anywhere.
That said, he did draw attention to Buffalo Bayou, and it's a shame that many in Houston don't recognize the way we trash our streams and actively seek to stop it. Buffalo Bayou is the heritage stream of Houston and the reason Houston exists, but humans are known for fouling their nests, including the foundation of Houston's history.
Since 1964 the Bayou Preservation Association (www.bayoupreservation.org) has been working toward preserving the natural streams in Harris County and has established paddle trails on many of the bayous and streams in the county, including Buffalo Bayou. Buffalo Bayou is a beautiful stream, and the BPA is trying to keep it that way.
Know before you go.
Member, Bayou Preservation Association and Houston Canoe Club
Obit: I enjoyed Josh Harkinson's article about his float down Buffalo Bayou to Galveston Bay, which shows that even paddling in trash has its moments. However, I do discourage anyone from paddling in high flow or through the Turning Basin -- this could have been an obituary. We do invite Josh and others who would like to paddle Houston's bayous to go to our Web page (www.bayoupreservation.org) and click on our canoe guide. There are many beautiful areas in Houston to paddle. But next time, Josh, follow the rules of the waterways, "pack it in, pack it out" and be safe. Thanks.
Mary Ellen Whitworth, P.E.
Executive director, Bayou Preservation Association
Too Many Corrections
The July 20 feature story "Dark Water" (by Josh Harkinson) incorrectly stated the location at which Houston police officers dumped Joe Campos Torres. Torres drowned in Buffalo Bayou at McKee Street. In addition, a mention of wood ducks in the story should have clarified that they are the bayou's only known breeding pair of wood ducks, and not necessarily the only wood ducks sighted along the waterway.
Also, in the July 20 edition, a review of the play Smoke on the Mountain (by Lee Williams) incorrectly identified some of the actors and their characters. The role of Reverend Oglethorpe is played by Kevin Dean, and Karen Hodgin plays Vera Sanders.
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In the July 27 edition, the feature story "Changes in Attitudes" (by Josh Harkinson) also contained errors. Peggy Hamric's last name was misspelled. Martha Wong was principal of Kolter Elementary, not a high school, and she kicked off her campaign in the Greenway Plaza area, not Greenspoint. The federal IRS had nothing to do with Rob Brunner's state property taxes.
When we referred to Hamric and Joe Nixon as being vulnerable to attacks by Democrats, we should have referred to Republican candidates running in that district, not them. Hamric and Nixon were defeated in the primary race for state Senate that year.
Please see today's Hair Balls for further explanation of the errors in this story.
The Houston Press regrets the errors.