Everybody's Houston experience should include a trip down Buffalo Bayou. Avid paddler Helena Finley tells us that, east of the race course, new bike trails, a new bike bridge, and other amenities and improvements have been added.Photo by Jordan Mahoney
It's been said there are no new frontiers, but we beg to differ. How many Houstonians can actually claim they've seen the Bayou City from along its actual bayous and waterways?
The numbers are growing, with more and more converts getting regatta fever each year. Of course it helps when avid paddlers like Helena Finley convince their employer to sponsor a team in the annual Buffalo Bayou Partnership Regatta presented by Gillman Subaru.
"For us every year, Morgan gets people to do this event that have never done it before. They get to the end and they're so excited, 'Wow, I saw things I never thought I would see.' The Buffalo Bayou Partnership puts on a great event, there's music at the end, food and beer and a beautiful lawn area to relax on and everybody gets to enjoy the ending," says Finley. "That's what is always fun for me to see — the reaction of new people. They're always so glad that they did it."
Finley says she's also looking forward to going up against the team from Saint Arnold Brewing Company. "The group last year, we beat out Saint Arnolds. Saint Arnolds won three years in a row; it's interesting to see what happens this year. We love those guys too," says Finley. "It's friendly competition and just good fun." Take a look at this video for a taste.
We checked in with Trudi Smith, director of public relations and events for Buffalo Bayou Partnership, who tells us that the regatta — now in its 47th year — is not only the largest in Texas but has become one of the top five largest in the nation, in terms of number of boats.
"We have had up to 500 boats and about 900 participants in the past and a lot of it is weather related. We’re crossing our fingers too that this year will be a beautiful paddle," says Smith.
"It's really such a great way to see what Buffalo Bayou has to offer. When you’re experiencing it on water, it's a completely different perspective of Houston. Being the fourth largest city, you never imagine how lush and vibrant it is with wildlife," says Smith, who says they work with Texas master naturalist Alisa Kline, who has noticed an increase in wildlife, including beavers. "It's really exciting to see. It's really unique and they are just outside of downtown; they are truly part of this urban location."
Higher water levels mean a faster race and the partnership has a few secret weapons up its sleeve. "So the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers really tries to work with us in releasing water," says Smith, though it depends on water availability. "[They] will actually release water for us to help the paddlers, give them a little push, literally, and so not to really wear out a lot of the racers.
"Also Harris County Flood Control District partners with us in clearing out the route as much as possible to make sure that it is clear of debris so that we don’t have to portage the boats," says Smith, adding that TEXSAR (Texas Search & Rescue) ensures the safety of the race, volunteering time to help with bottlenecks or when new paddlers get tired.
Not yet your year to give it a go? The fastest boats begin the course at 9 a.m. and can finish the 15.5 mile route in an hour an a half, so there are good vantage points along the way, including the bridge at Bayou Bend Collection and Gardens (6003 Memorial), the Rosemont Bridge (on the north side of the Memorial Drive trail near Montrose), and the Carruth pedestrian bridge (near the Police Memorial).
Plus, everybody's invited to the free finish line party and awards ceremony at Allen's Landing from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., with live Zydeco music, food trucks, children's activities and a chance to see the racers and colorful boats up close.
The 47th Annual Buffalo Bayou Partnership Regatta presented by Gillman Subaru is scheduled for March 9 at 7:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, ending at Allen's Landing, 1001 Commerce. For information, call 713-752-0314 or visit buffalobayou.org. Free to watch and attend finish line festivities; $30 to $50 to participate if registered by February 22, $55 if registered by March 7, $60 for day-of registration.
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Susie Tommaney is a contributing writer who enjoys covering the lively arts and culture scene in Houston and surrounding areas, connecting creative makers with the Houston Press readers to make every week a great one.