Friday, July 20, 2007

A Vision of Buffalo Bayou



I wanted to follow up on the Terry Hershey excursion. First of all, in case I didn't make it quite clear, Terry Hershey Park is a jewel that should be treasured by Houston. The same can be said of its inside-the-loop counterparts, Buffalo Bayou Park and the other parks near downtown that border the Bayou. One of these days I'll explore them by bicycle for this blog. I have, of course, ridden there many times before, but in recent years they have built a lot more onto the parks, and the trails extend through downtown (I believe). The Buffalo Bayou Partnership has been planning and building these changes for years, and they plan to turn the Bayou into a park all the way to the turning basin of the Ship Channel (which is where the natural bayou ends and the man-made bayou begins).

The Buffalo Bayou Partnership
has a 20-year plan for the Bayou which will turn it from the generally neglected smelly muddy creek it has been for just about forever into a cool, civic area where people live and play. The plan is quite specific in many areas, and very vague in others. One of those vague areas is to connect Memorial Park to Buffalo Bayou Park in some way. This is an extremely exciting idea to me, and one that seems doable if you just look at a map. The distance along the Bayou between those two parks is only about a mile.

However, that mile includes the River Oaks Country Club and some of the most expensive private homes in Houston (according to Zillow.com, the cheapest property along that stretch of the Bayou is $401 thousand while the most expensive is a whopping $9.16 million). That said, there is Bayou Bend, which is a large mansion on the Bayou now owned by the Museum of Fine Arts. One assumes that they would not be opposed to a bike path along the Bayou, assuming they could control access to the gardens and the mansion. That would take care of a big chunk of the mile of Bayou between Memorial Park and Buffalo Bayou Park.

The much more difficult task would be acquiring Bayou front land between Terry Hershey Park and Memorial Park. The Bayou leaves the western edge of Memorial Park at the point where the Bayou crosses Woodway, just west of the 610 Loop. Then, as far as I can determine, there are no public Bayou frontages until you reach Terry Hershey Park at the Sam Houston Tollway. So if Harris County wanted to have a hike and bike trail along that area, they would have to condemn and buy millions of dollars worth of property along the Bayou. Property that belongs to wealthy, politically connected people.

In theory this is possible, but I can't imagine a scenario where it would be worth the combination of money and political will required. But let's assume we could somehow acquire property along that length of the Bayou (and along the mile of River Oaks Bayou frontage we'd need).

At that point, Terry Hershey accompanies the Bayou out past Highway 6, then behind the Addicks Dam, the Bayou runs through George Bush Park, which is enormous. The Bayou leaves George Bush Park a little past where it crosses the Westheimer Parkway, at which point it becomes a wide, channelized stream with ample space on either side for a hike and bike path. I believe the Bayou's official starting point is in West Katy, near the Katy-Flewellen Rd., some 35 miles from downtown Houston.

Now imagine a continuous hike and bike trail running from that starting point all the way to the turning basin. I called Terry Hershey Park a jewel. A park/hike-and-bike trail from west Katy to the turning basin along Buffalo Bayou would be the crown jewel of Houston and Harris County. It would be one of the great urban parks in the world. What is amazing is that huge sections of it are already built, and more large sections (along Memorial Park and George Bush Park) would require no land acquisition. Unfortunately, I can't see how it could be done. It would require, in essence, opening up the back yards of Houston's elite to hikers, bikers, joggers, strollers, and other hoi polloi. I can't realistically see that happening. But I can dream.

(Photo credit. I borrowed this photo without permission from this site. The photographer is Billie Mercer, and I like his photos very much. He has quite a few more of Buffalo Bayou and also of the Sixth Ward neighborhood.)

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