Two years ago Buffalo Bayou was the ultimate "Bad Guy;" it did what it wanted, so criminal, as its banks overflowed with Harvey's rains.
Buffalo Bayou Partnership wisely took a break from its plans for the future until we could all learn to love the natural waterway again. And we do, we really really do.
In the ultimate real life version of a city building game (think SimCity), BBP has been partnering with communities to identify wants and needs as it developed its Buffalo Bayou East Master Plan for hike and bike paths, nature trails, bridges, greenways and programs that will connect neighborhoods to the bayou, all the way to the Port of Houston.
But unlike SimCity, which begins with a blank slate, Houston has some grungy industrial relics along the proposed route and BBP has incorporated these oddities into its plans, similar to how manufacturing sites were renovated into attractions with Seattle's Gas Works Park or Germany's Ruhr Valley.
Houstonians will be familiar with some of these industrial sites in the east sector. Just about everybody knows about the Silos, but active and abandoned facilities also include an incinerator, a barge dock, rail lines, warehouses and water treatment facilities.
"There's an abandoned [water treatment plant] at Lockwood; they abandoned the 69th Street one," says Anne Olson, BBP's President. "It's an amazing 22-acre site, it has these huge round settling basins and aeration tanks and they have a few very small buildings with the equipment still in them.
"Several years ago the city had planned to remove all of the infrastructure and we went to them and said, 'We love this site, we don’t want you to take everything out.' We swapped a piece of property that we owned," says Olson. Between land owned by the Partnership and land owned by local government entities, BBP has access to about 150 acres of property along Buffalo Bayou.
"We’ve worked for 15 years buying up easements from property owners for the trail. Today we’re working on two missing links that we need to get from Shepherd all the way to Lockwood; once we do there will be a continuous connection," says Olson.
"Turkey Bend, out of the main channel, is a really cool site and it has a huge wooden wharf and they have these gantries that hang over the water. There's a 50,000 square foot warehouse on Navigation, it leads down to the waterfront. We have some really cool sites and we plan to keep all of that infrastructure," says Olson, who says that the grungier, the better.
The Buffalo Bayou East Master Plan is an ambitious one and it will take decades to see the entire plan come to fruition. But Olson tells us their goal is to fast track certain segments, so that we can see almost immediate results in key neighborhoods along the east sector: Second Ward, Fifth Ward and Magnolia Park.
Once the East Master Plan is completed, in BBP's if-you-build-it-they-will-come vision for the future, a typical day of recreation along the bayou could look something like this:
9 a.m., Walk across a new pedestrian bridge that connects the Port of Houston Nature Park to the northside, then travel by water taxi from Hidalgo Park for a short voyage up the bayou.
9:30 a.m., Stop at the Lockwood Water Treatment Works, which has been transformed into gardens filled with flowers and wildlife, then take a field trip to an interpretive center before grabbing a bite at the taco stand.
11 a.m., Run, climb or challenge yourself on the ropes course at Adventure Park with its grass and gravel mounds.
11:30 a.m., Explore Japhet Creek's nature trail, pedestrian bridge and tree house, or hop on a BCycle and ride to the community garden.
Noon, Watch a soccer game on the lawn, take time to check out the detention ponds, and cross the repurposed railroad trestle bridge.
12:15 p.m., Relax on the banks at Guadalupe Plaza Park where a Tejano band is performing in the amphitheater and people are departing on boat tours.
12:30 p.m., Grab lunch at the Silos, check out a multimedia installation, or hit the bayou trail.
1:15 p.m., Chill out at the Navigation Lawn Connection on the site of a former rail yard.
1:30 p.m., Rent a kayak at the North York Boating Center.
2 p.m., Spend an afternoon at Tony Marron Park, where children are celebrating birthday parties and a troupe of ballet folklórico dancers are practicing for a big performance.
4:30 p.m., Meet your friends who live in Lockwood South; they've just pulled some veggies from the communal garden and y'all plan a cook-out.
6:30 p.m., Head over to Turkey Bend and grab a beer on the wooden dock while folks kayak in from the bayou.
10 p.m., Dance the night away at the event shed with live Zydeco music.
The plan employs strategies that will help manage stormwater, mitigate flooding, reduce risk for local residents and landowners, and stabilize the bayou's banks.
BBP will work to prevent erosion along the banks by replacing invasive species with native plants, expanding the tree canopy, and developing new green spaces without compromising biological diversity.
While the Partnership won't dictate how industrial plants and private landowners conduct their businesses, they do support initiatives and programs that work to improve air and water quality in these industrial areas. Olson says they own enough land to make a positive impact on the environment.
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Join BBP this Saturday to celebrate the launch of the Buffalo Bayou East Master Plan. Enjoy performances by the Annika Chamber Band, plus Roberto Rodriguez and Mas Pulpo and Break Free hip hop. They'll give out free bicycle helmets to the first 100 attendees, will have face painting and crafts for children, food trucks will be on site, and Saint Arnold Brewing Company will serve beer and root beer.
The Buffalo Bayou East Master Plan launch party is scheduled for October 26 from noon to 4 p.m. Saturday at 5803 Navigation Boulevard. For information, call 713-752-0314 or visit buffalobayou.org/event/buffalo-bayou-east-master-plan-celebration. Free.
And, if you just can't make it, Olson tells us they'll begin programming in November with bike rides, boat tours and walks to introduce the community to Houston's east sector.