This summer's unprecedented drought has led to at least one unusual opportunity for outdoorsy types in the Houston area -- the chance to kayak or canoe a rather long stretch of the San Jacinto River.
The west fork of the San Jacinto stretches from Montgomery County to Lake Houston, where it joins the east fork on its trip to the Gulf. As the city has been siphoning from Lake Conroe to replenish Lake Houston (source of the city's water), the flow rates and water depth of San Jacinto's west fork have been much higher than normal, making parts of it passable by small watercraft.
And that's just what some friends of Hair Balls did last weekend, guided by Tom Helm, who in 2006 also took Press reporter Josh Harkinson on a 40-mile canoe trip along Buffalo Bayou from Memorial Park to the Houston Ship Channel.
While Helm and Harkinson's trip five years ago took two days (they camped on the banks of the bayou), last week's hardy paddlers managed to complete the entire 35-mile trip in a single 9-hour stretch. On one of the hottest days in history, too.
The group launched from McDade Park in Conroe, about 45 minutes away from Downtown Houston by car. Says Helm of the trip:
The river is running fast, with only a few logjams and a big pipe early on to portage over/around. The first five miles or so are under a shady tree canopy, gradually opening up to a wider river once you get downstream of the I-45 bridge. In that section there are multiple channels and cuts through the river shiggy...choose your path wisely!
Downstream from Needham Rd., the river opens up even wider, and the hot sun was beating down, but the current still had strong flow. Egret, herons, snakes, ospreys, otters, and wild pigs were sighted along the banks, with giant carp and catfish in the river. Finally, as the sun was setting, we reached the Cypress Creek confluence, with the finish at Edgewater Park near the US59 bridge just ahead.
Helm stresses that this is a long trip for experienced boaters only.
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"Doing the entire 30 miles in one whack is a bit much for the casual paddler, so my recommendation is that the 15-mile section from FM2854 to Needham Road is the best choice," he says.
According to the US Geological Service website, water levels on the river are still above 16 feet and discharging at 220 cubic feet per second, about 3 times the average.