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Going Wild in the City

Can't make it out to the refuge this weekend?  Check out one of the many nature centers located in the Houston area.  Featured places offer unique experiences for viewing wildlife and learning opportunities for all ages.  Check back throughout the summer for articles about more nature centers in Houston.  Go for a bird walk, attend a nature lecture, or take a plant identification class, then make a trip to one of YOUR six

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  • 23 Oct 2014 5:00 PM | Anonymous
    The History
    In 1943, the Sheldon Dam was built along Carpenter Bayou about 15 miles northeast of downtown Houston creating Sheldon Reservoir. Water was pumped from the nearby San Jacinto River to the 1,200 acre lake to provide freshwater for factories and shipping along the Houston Ship Channel for World War II. Following the war, the lake was transferred over to the City of Houston and continued selling water to industries along the ship channel until 1952. That year, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department purchased the facility. It was designated a state Wildlife Management Area for waterfowl and a fish hatchery by 1955. It was also opened to the public for fishing and at that time. In the mid-1970’s, the fish hatchery was closed which allowed the habitat to begin returning to a more native state. As in most areas of coastal areas of Texas before settlement, prairies spread out across the area only being broken by scattered woodlands. After the site was converted into Sheldon Lake State Park in 1984, the state has been actively managing the area around the reservoir to be turned back into its natural state by introducing prairie habitat back to the area.


    Activities and Opportunities
    In the past 30 years, the park has seen many improvements for public uses including a half-mile nature trail around the old fish hatchery ponds, fishing piers, demonstration gardens, a teaching facility for local school programs, and the John Jacob Observation Tower. The observation tower stands 82 feet tall in the center of the park and provides a 360 degree view of the prairie and reservoir that make up the park plus views of the San Jacinto Monument and downtown Houston each about 15 miles away. The tower is fully accessible thanks to an elevated boardwalk and a solar powered elevator. Four distinct types of habitat help bring in a wide array of wildlife to the park. Bottomland woods, coastal prairie, marsh, and open water welcome over 200 species of birds in addition to alligators, butterflies, and other wildlife.

    The Environmental Learning Center in the park offers several nature programs to groups with a reservation. Staff and volunteers led programs include nature walks, fishing, native plant gardening, hunter education, among other topics. Local school groups are encouraged to take advantage of the programs by bringing out students to the park for field trips. The facility is also LEED certified by being built with recycled materials and special energy saving features.

    Why is it significant to Houston’s National Wildlife Refuges?
    Like many urban parks in the Houston area, the area that is now Sheldon Lake was converted from natural habitat to human use which significantly altered the landscape. The Galveston Bay area had traditionally been a rich coastal prairie habitat before development. With the creation of Sheldon Reservoir, an entire bayou-woodland-prairie ecosystem was altered. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department is taking steps to help convert the once industrial use reservoir back into a mixed landscape of prairies, woodlands, and water. National Wildlife Refuges in the Houston area have faced the same challenges. However, in most of these cases, the refuges’ distance from urban area helped curb significant development leaving a much more natural habitat as a model for places like Sheldon Lake. In the big picture, Sheldon Lake State Park may seem small. However, the steps being taken towards restoration and preservation around Sheldon Reservoir leaves a big impact for the future of conservation locally and across the state and country. Go check out some nature at one of your Houston-area National Wildlife Refuges. MJ



     View of Sheldon Lake and downtown Houston from the John Jacob Observation Tower


  • 03 Aug 2014 12:00 PM | Anonymous

    The History
    George Bush Park is located west of downtown Houston just on the eastern outskirts of Katy, Texas. The history of the park can be traced back to the 1800's when the area was home to settlers in what was Stephen F. Austin's Colony. The area eventually turned into ranch land for cattle. In 1880's, a narrow gauge railroad ran from Houston to surrounding areas, including what is now the park. Ranching and farming continued in the area until the 1940's when the federal government created the Barker Reservoir to help with flood control along Buffalo Bayou. Over time, pieces of the area began being developed leaving it at 7,800 acres, which is about half of it's original size. In 1997, the park's name changed from Cullen-Barker Park to George Bush Park in honor of the 41st President. The reservoir is managed by the Galveston District of the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, however the park is operated by Harris County.


    Activities and Opportunities
    The park offers ample opportunities to spend time outdoors and in nature. Long, paved trails attract cyclists and day hikers to pedal or walk along over 10 miles of trails and even horse-back riders traverse the park without vehicle traffic. There are no specific wildlife watching areas, however "The Boardwalk" provides an excellent spot seeing a variety of songbirds and waterbirds in addition to reptiles like turtles and even alligators. The Boardwalk sits near the middle of the park where it crosses over a swampy area of the meandering Buffalo Bayou. Often times, even the most determined cyclists stop to view the wildlife around them from the boardwalk. The levees and dam along the east side of the park that help control Buffalo Bayou's flow provide an excellent elevated view of the area. They over excellent distant views of the park and even downtown Houston 15 miles away. the There are no facilities in the park other than those near sports fields on the southwest side of the park. The main trail connects to Terry Hershey Park, which provides more paved paths along Buffalo Bayou.


    Alligator near The Boardwalk in George Bush Park


    Why is it significant to Houston’s National Wildlife Refuges?
    It is interesting to think about how the area is used. Originally known as Barker Reservoir, people might expect to see a wide open body of water like Sheldon Lake east of Houston. That is not the case of George Bush Park. Most of the time, the park is lush vegetation of woody trees, grassy prairies, and wetlands. During heavy rains though, the U.S. Army Core of Engineers can restrict the flow of Buffalo Bayou and use George Bush Park as a reservoir to hold water and flood the area. This helps prevent flooding of Buffalo Bayou all the way to downtown Houston and into the ship channel. Similar to the Willows Waterhole Greenspace along Brays Bayou in southwest Houston, wetlands are used for protection. Along the upper Texas coast, Anahuac, Brazoria, McFaddin, and San Bernard National Wildlife Refuges serve as similar protection from hurricanes by helping to moderate storm surge. During significant hurricanes, places like George Bush Park and the coastal refuges are instrumental in protecting life and property from flooding. They also provide excellent places to see native wildlife and experience local nature. Be sure to plan a trip to one of your Houston-area National Wildlife Refuges.


    By: Matthew Jackson

  • 19 Jul 2014 5:00 PM | Anonymous

    The History

    The land the Armand Bayou Nature Center now occupies was first occupied by Native Americans for at least 7,000 years according to archaeological finds at the area. It's location in the Middle Bayou area provided rich natural resources for hunting of bison and prairie chickens as well as fishing. In the mid 1800's settlers started moving to the area for those same reasons. Once established, they began farming, ranching, and shipping along the bayou and out to Galveston Bay. Jim West, one of the early residents in the area owned operated a 28,000 acre ranch as a preserve for deer, quail, peccary, and prairie chickens. In 1938, his ranch was purchased by Humble Oil and Refining Company.

     

    In 1962, Humble began to develop real estate opportunities which led to the initial development of the nearby NASA's Johnson Space Center. Five years later, the construction of Bay Area Boulevard created more public access to Middle Bayou which for further development. In the late 1960's, a fellow by the name of Armand Yramategui's started the initial conservation movement in this area. His passion for wilderness along the Texas Gulf Coast led efforts to begin preserving land in the area before being developed. Following his death in 1970, Middle Bayou was renamed Armand Bayou in honor of his conservation efforts. In 1974, the Armand Bayou Nature Center was incorporated as a non-profit organization with the help of individuals, organizations, and government agencies whose mission includes land preservation and environmental education.

     

    Activities and Opportunities 

    The Armand Bayou Nature Center includes five miles of forest, marsh and prairie trails, viewing platforms, butterfly gardens, bird blinds, education classrooms, live wildlife displays, and a 1800's farm site. Visitors could expect to see a wide-variety of wildlife while walking the trails or in displays in the Education Center. Displays include reptiles such as snakes, turtles, and baby alligators. There is also a raptor display where injured raptors are able to be seen up close. Additionally, there is also a bison viewing area which provides a rare opportunity to see these animals alive in an area where they once roamed freely along the Texas coast.


    Furthermore, various bird and paddling tours are hosted at the site throughout the year. Multi-day camps offer children a chance to get closer to nature in the summer and winter. Volunteer workdays for prairie restoration give the public a chance to physically be involved in habitat management. There are many different nature-themed classes held at the Education Center ranging from bayou hydrology to wildflowers. The site also hosts a Trash Bash event in conjunction with other Galveston Bay locations every March.


    Why is it significant to Houston’s National Wildlife Refuges?

    This preserve is much like National Wildlife Refuges in the area. It was created before development occurred on it and is actually preserving one of the last remaining pieces of native prairie in Harris County and the greater Houston area. Being completely surrounded by residential areas in Clear Lake and industrial development in La Porte, the decision to preserve this in the early 1970's has created a tremendous resource for providing prairie habitat and environmental education in the city. However, this also means that the Nature Center will not have much opportunity to grow in size for further land conservation. Fortunately, the land owner, Harris County, has leased the site to the Armand Bayou Nature Center with a 99-year automatic rollover lease. This means, visitors today can be assured that this land will continue to be preserved for the next generation. Houston's National Wildlife Refuges offer the same assurance to visitors in that they will preserve and restore native habitat for the next generation. Being further away from current development offers more opportunities to reach out for further land acquisition and preservation. When looking for an experience with nature outside the city, plan a visit to your Houston-area National Wildlife Refuges.


    By: Matthew Jackson


    Historical information gathered from http://www.abnc.org/

  • 01 Sep 2013 3:00 PM | Anonymous
    By: Matthew Jackson
    The History
    The Willows Waterhole Greenspace is a flood control area for Brays Bayou in the southwestern portion of Houston.  For Houston residents, heavy rain throughout the year is always a threat either through spring thunderstorms or summer and full tropical systems.  With heavy rain, usually comes flooding.  In the first half of the 20th century, Houston was subjected to a series of devastating floods that caused millions of dollars of damage around the city and the Ship Channel in addition to loss of life.  In the 1930's, Jack Rafferty, the first Harris County Flood Control Engineer, was among the first to begin planning a city-wide flood control system consisting of of canals and enlarged bayous that would help divert flood waters.  

    Fast forward to present day, the Houston area has 22 watersheds, each being managed by the Harris County Flood Control District.  What used to be natural bayous that meandered there way across the coastal prairies, now have been channelized and straightened to allow flood waters to quickly move down the water shed and eventually out to the Houston Ship Channel and ultimately Galveston Bay.  As development in the bayous has become more dense, even short-lived storms can produce dangerous flood conditions in the watersheds.

    In 1985, the Brays Bayou Foundation funded initial studies establishing the need and identifying the location of stormwater retention ponds in the Brays Bayou watershed.  Fifteen years later, excavation of what are now the ponds at the Willow Waterhole Greenspace begins.  In 2001, the Willow Waterhole Greenspace Conservancy is established.  In the same year, the Conservancy, with the help of the National Park Service, gains more land to make the greenspace a usable park for the public.  In 2004, the first park features were completed including trails, bridges and signs.  Since that time, the greenspace and park has continued to grow to nearly 300 acres.

    Activities and Opportunities
    Paved trails throughout the park wind their way around the ponds that offer excellent views of wildlife that may be in the ponds.  The wetlands here attract dozens of species of birds that even the most casual birder couldn't find easily only a mile away in the surrounding neighborhoods.  In fact, Houston Audubon regularly hosts bird walks at the Willow Waterhole Park throughout the year and post their findings on the announcements board at the park.  Ducks, herons, egrets, ibis, hawks, woodpeckers, swallows, and wrens were all seen in June 2013 at the location.

    Additionally, the Willow Waterhole Greenspace Conservancy also hosts volunteer work day events throughout the year which include picking up litter and planting native plants that strengthen the wetland ecosystem.

    Why is it significant to Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge?
    The Willow Waterhole Greenspace is a perfect example of demonstrating the importance of wetlands.  In this particular instance, wetlands were created primarily to retain excess storm runoff to prevent flooding downstream and to improve the water quality.  As a side effect, natural habitat has been re-created and been made accessible for wildlife and the public to use.  In the case of Anahuac NWR, the wetlands and prairies  are being preserved primarily for waterfowl and migrating songbirds habitat, but it also provides the same benefits to the surrounding areas.  Much like the torrential rainfall and resulting runoff and flooding in Houston, Anahuac NWR is susceptible to storm surges from tropical systems.  In either case, the wetlands provide a buffer to protect areas away from bayous and the coast from more severe flooding.  They also both help filter contaminants out of the water which would eventually make it into Galveston Bay.  

    Places like Anahuac NWR are used as models for wetland creation in other environments.  Come see for yourself what they have to offer at one of YOUR Houston National Wildlife Refuges.

    Sources:

  • 21 Jul 2013 3:30 PM | Anonymous
    By: Matthew Jackson

    The History-

    The Houston Audubon Society  is one of the longest tenured wildlife organizations in the Houston area and is a local chapter of the National Audubon Society.  Established in 1969, the Houston chapter's mission is to promote conservation and appreciation of birds and wildlife habitat.  It does this by acquiring critical habitats, developing education programs, advocating, and land conservation projects.  Houston Audubon's efforts reach outside of the central Houston area into the surrounding 11-county area in order to accomplish their mission.


    The Houston Audubon owns and maintains 17 sanctuaries in five different counties totaling 3,373 acres.  Most of the them are located along coastal areas including nearby High Island which is well known internationally as being one of the diverse places to see migrating birds.  Two sanctuaries are located in the city, with one of them serving as the organization's headquarters.  The headquarters at the Edith L. Moore Nature Sanctuary is located just outside the Beltway and south of Interstate 10 along Memorial Drive (map) and Rummel Creek.


    Before becoming a nature sanctuary, the site was previously owned by Jesse and Edith Moore.  In 1932, the couple built a log cabin on their 140 acre property using pine trees from the local forest.  Edith Moore and her husband chose the location because it was 17 miles away from the traffic and noise of the city of Houston.  Over the years, urban development ultimately reached the Moore property where most of it was sold off to developers.  Edith held on to 17.5 acres near her cabin while still living in it.  Her passion for nature and preserving the site led her to bequeath the remaining property and her log cabin to the Houston Audubon following her death in 1975.


    Activities and Opportunities-

    Since 1975, Houston Audubon has preserved Edith Moore's log cabin in addition to developing trails, creating education programs, constructing an office, and performing outreach from the site.  Trails, boardwalks, bridges, and overlooks meander through the site offering the public a glimpse at what the Houston Memorial area was like before being developed.  The Audubon Docent Guild lead bird walks, log cabin tours, youth education programs, nature festivals, and volunteer work days at Edith L. Moore Nature Sanctuary.  Most of these events are free and open to the public.   The site is included in the Texas Parks & Wildlife's Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail as a place to see a diverse collection of woodland birds.


    Click here for more information about all of Houston Audubon's nature sanctuaries.


    Why is it significant to Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge?-

    Houston Audubon has been promoting wildlife and conservation in Houston almost dating back to the passing of the National Wildlife Refuge System Administration Act of 1966.  At that time, Anahuac NWR and several other National Wildlife Refuges in the Houston area were established to conserve habitat for migratory birds and other native wildlife.  A decade later, the Edith L. Moore property became an "urban refuge" which provided a place for urban residents to learn and experience wildlife closer to home.  The site has played a key role for National Wildlife Refuges in the area by educating the public about the importance of wildlife and conserving land through Houston Audubon's education and outreach programs in the city.  The Friends of Anahuac Refuge have provided the same opportunities to our local community near the Refuge for over 16 years.  We will continue our mission of supporting, preserving, promoting, and enhancing Anahuac NWR locally and will continue to grow our outreach in the city.  MJ 


    Edith L. Moore Log Cabin historical information from here

  • 13 Jul 2013 10:00 AM | Anonymous

    By: Matthew Jackson

    The History-

    Most Texas residents are probably familiar with the history behind the San Jacinto State Historic Site.  On April 21, 1836, Texan forces led by General Sam Houston defeated General Santa Anna and the Mexican Army along the banks of Buffalo Bayou on the west side of Galveston Bay.  The battle ended the Texas Revolution and granted Texas independence from Mexico.  Texas became a sovereign nation until 1845 when it was annexed by the United States.  What people may not be familiar with is how the Texas Revolution started.  Battles took place up and down the Texas coast and further inland at places like Gonzalez, Goliad, and at the Alamo in San Antonio in 1835 and 1836.  However, the first rumblings of revolution occurred years earlier on the east side of Galveston Bay. 

     

    In 1830, Mexico established Fort Anahuac, a Mexican customs and garrison post, near the mouth of the Trinity River in Galveston Bay.  It served as a checkpoint for American immigrants entering Mexican Texas.  By 1832, American immigrants living near Anahuac became increasingly upset with Mexican customs so they began protesting against Mexican soldiers stationed there.  Tensions boiled over into a small battle that summer against the Mexican military force in the town.  Following the confrontation, settlers in the area adopted the Turtle Bayou Resolutions.  The document listed grievances against the military-centric Mexican government at the time.  The small conflict in Anahuac is considered by many to be the starting point for the Texas Revolution and ultimately the Mexican-American War in which the U.S. gained most of what is now New Mexico, Arizona, California, and parts of Colorado, Utah, and Nevada.  For more history, see Texas Revolution and Mexican-American War.

     

    After the Battle of San Jacinto, the site remained privately owned and relatively untouched.  The Texas Veterans Association began lobbying for a memorial in 1856, but were unsuccessful until the 1890s.  At the time, the state finally purchased the battle site and turned it into a state park.  Efforts from the Daughters of the Republic of Texas helped secure funds from the state the federal government for a monument.  Construction began in 1936 and was completed three years later after a 220-ton star was placed on top of the monument making it 567 feet tall, 12 feet taller than the Washington Monument.  From the beginning, the San Jacinto Museum of History Association has run the monument.  In 1966, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department took control over it while allowing the Association to continue overseeing it.  It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1962 by the National Park Service.

     

    Activities and Opportunities-

    The monument itself is the main attraction to the site, however one could easily spend half a day or more walking trails across the battlefield and through the adjacent wetlands that border the Houston Ship Channel.  A view from the observation deck in the monument offers views of the Ship Channel, Battleship TEXAS, downtown Houston, and the Fred Hartman Bridge.  It can also double as a bird watching tower providing views of 1,200 acres of tidal marshes, bottomland forest, and coastal prairies that are found in the park.  You won’t get to see the birds up close, but it is an awesome sight to watch large flocks of roseate spoonbills and geese land in the wetlands from above.

     

    After getting a glimpse of the area from above, the Boardwalk Interpretive Trail leads out from the monument to the marsh where seeing spoonbills, herons, and otters is common.  The trail then leads into a forest where songbirds, butterflies, and reptiles hide in the dense cover.  The trail was partially funded by grants from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

     

    Why is it significant to Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge?-

    Besides the closely knit history between San Jacinto and the city of Anahuac, there are also many issues that the battleground and Anahuac NWR face.  Texas Parks and Wildlife continues to battle at the site, but this time against habitat loss and nearby development.  Fire suppression, groundwater pumping, and introduction of non-native species over the past century are major factors in habitat loss and the decrease in wildlife diversity in the area.  Over the past couple of decades, TPWD has taken significant strides to counter these issues in hopes of restoring the area just like it was at the time of the battle in 1836.  Little bluestem, Indian grass, and other grass species that once dominated the site provided forage for Attwater prairie chickens and American bison.  Introduction of non-native species like Chinese tallow and development along the ship channel led to a fast decline of habitat. 

     

    Anahuac NWR has remained much more undisturbed over the same time period, but still feels the same effects.  Refuge managers continue to eradicate Chinese tallow to allow native species to grow.  Subsidence in the area due to groundwater pumping and oil drilling makes the Refuge more susceptible to salt water intrusion.  Refuge managers are able to deliver fresh water to the marsh so grasses can grow and wildlife can continue to live in the area.

     

    Without these land management practices at San Jacinto State Historic Site and Anahuac NWR, both places would continue to degrade and ultimately convert to a new non-native condition or simply be completely flooded by Galveston Bay.  These wetlands are vital to the health of fisheries along the upper Texas coast and provide buffers against storm surges for inland areas.  See more native plants and wildlife at your Houston area National Wildlife Refuges.  MJ

     

    Historical information from Texas State Historical Association

    Dorothy Estis Knepper, "SAN JACINTO MONUMENT AND MUSEUM," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/lbs01), accessed July 14, 2013. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

  • 10 Jul 2013 12:58 PM | Anonymous

    By: Matthew Jackson

    The History-

    First opened in 1995 by the City of Baytown, the Baytown Nature Center now encompasses 450 acres of what once was the Brownwood subdivision.  It is located near the confluence of Buffalo Bayou and San Jacinto River just before emptying into Galveston Bay.  The peninsula is surrounded on three sides by Burnet Bay, Crystal Bay, and Scott Bay.  The location is known to have been home to the Arkokisa Indians who took advantage of the marshes and bays for hunting and fishing.  The land was purchased by Edwin Rice Brown Sr. in 1910 for cattle ranching.  Following his death in 1927, his widow, Myra C. Brown began selling lots for development and a decade later, most of the remaining lots were sold Humble Oil executives for homes.  The subdivision was annexed by the City of Baytown in 1962.

     

    Within 20 years of being developed, the subdivision has begun subsiding due to ground water withdrawal.  In some cases, the land sunk as much as 15 feet.  Storm surges and river flooding became more of an issue over time.  In August 1983, Hurricane Alicia dealt the final blow to Brownwood when a 10-foot storm surge left the subdivision in ruins.  The location was deemed unhabitable following the storm which led to the City of Baytown to begin buying the lots and removing any remaining structures and debris from the site.

     

    In 1995, the peninsula’s move back to nature began with an initial 65 acres being reverted back wetlands and forested islands.  Ongoing restoration projects and the development of recreation areas and trails in the early 2000’s helped the Nature Center become a popular destination for nature enthusiasts in the Houston area.  Hurricane Ike in 2008 and the associated 13-foot storm surge destroyed or heavily damaged structures and habitat.  Since then, the City of Baytown and the Friends of The Baytown Nature Center have rebuilt facilities and added new nature education areas.

     

    Activities and Opportunities-

    The Baytown Nature Center offers a wide array of activities to visitors.  Several piers are available for fishing and crabbing to people holding a valid fishing license.  The site is unique for fishing because it is centrally located between the San Jacinto River, the Houston Ship Channel (Buffalo Bayou) and Galveston Bay. 

    Wildlife observation is also widely available and accessible.  The Brownwood Education Pavilion sits atop about a 20 foot tall hill in the middle of the Nature Center and provides a 360 degree view of the interior wetlands, both Crystal and Scott Bays, and a view of the San Jacinto Monument that sits across Crystal Bay.  Over 5 miles of trails follow what once were streets lined with houses in the Brownwood Subdivision, but are now home to the wildlife that live in the restored marshes and forests.  Bird blinds provide excellent views into hidden ponds where wading birds feed and songbirds next in the surrounding oak trees.  The site is well known for its birding in the community in addition to the Texas coast as it is part of the Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail.  The Myra C. Brown Bird Sanctuary is on the northern end of the Nature Center and was among the first portions of land set aside for the restoration and is a great location to find nesting birds.

     

    The Crystal Bay Butterfly Garden is home to various types of butterfly-friendly

     flowers including lantana, coreopsis, Turk’s Cap and Mexican Milkweed.  Black Swallowtail, Spicebush Swallowtail, and Gulf Fritillary are all commonly seen in the garden.  Picnic areas and a new playground are available near the Butterfly Garden for families and offer shade and scenic views of the ship channel and San Jacinto Monument.  Hiking and biking are also available on the old neighborhood roads that wind through the wetlands.

     

    Furthermore, the Friends of The Baytown Nature Center also host volunteer work days for which have included marsh grass and tree plantings, installing interpretative materials, constructing bridges and fishing piers, and helping host an annual nature festival.  They also partner with the Eddie V. Gray Wetlands Center in Baytown for education programs with local students.

     

    Why is it significant to Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge?-

    Being only 35 miles apart, the Baytown Nature Center and Anahuac NWR share 

    quite a bit in common.  Both provide wetlands and coastal prairie habitat for wildlife.   Both are subjected to hurricanes that occur on the upper Texas coast and both places provide buffers for inland areas against tropical storms.  The most significant difference is the past development that occurred at the Baytown Nature Center.  It is a perfect example of measuring human’s impact on ecosystems.  The formerly native wetlands and forests that existed for hundreds, even thousands of years, were lost in just a matter of

     a few years once human development occurred.  When Hurricane Alicia struck the area, the habitat struggled to recover.  It wasn’t until a decade later when the community discovered the ecological value in the site and turned it into the Baytown Nature Center.  It is impressive to see the city’s and the Friends of The Baytown Nature Center’s restoration efforts.  Their hard work and commitment clearly shows the value of nature to local residents.

     

    Anahuac NWR and many refuges across the country were set aside for preservation before development occurred just for this reason.  Anahuac will always be subjected to hurricanes in the future, but the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Friends of Anahuac Refuge continue to give habitats and wildlife the best possible chance to withstand such events and recover.  The evidence is the recovery of the coastal prairies and marshes on the refuge following Hurricane Ike in 2008.  Friends members and volunteers work with refuge staff to carry out land management projects and scientific research at Anahuac NWR, and refuges across the country, so they remain healthy and vibrant.  See the wildlife and work being done at YOUR local national wildlife refuges.  MJ

     

    Historical information from the Friends of The Baytown Nature Center.  For more information, photos, and visit their website: http://www.baytownnaturecenter.org/

     

    Click here to read more about the Baytown Nature Center in Gary Clark's Nature Column in the Houston Chronicle

  • 01 Jul 2013 6:00 PM | Anonymous
    By: Matthew Jackson

    The History-

    The Houston Museum of Natural Science was first established in 1909 in downtown Houston.  Twenty years later, it relocated to a facility within the Houston Zoo.  Its current home was constructed in 1969 across the street from Hermann Park and now serves as an anchor for the Museum District.  The museum has had an extensive education program for over 65 years.  In just the program’s second year, it was already serving over 12,000 children per year.


    The museum also currently operates the Wortham Giant Screen TheaterBurke Baker Planetarium, and the Cockrell Butterfly Center at the main museum,satellite facilities in Sugar Land, and the George Observatory at Brazos Bend State Park.


    Activities and Opportunities-

    At 2 million visitors per year, it is one of the most visited museums in the country, for good reason.  It offers a tremendous variety of exhibits including the new Hall of Paleontology which includes more than 60 large skeleton mounts of reptiles and mammals representing over 150 million years of Earth’s wildlife diversity.  The Hall of Americas contains Native American artifacts dating back thousands of years ago.  


    The Weiss Energy Hall offers interactive displays of petroleum geology and oil drilling techniques.   There are two large wildlife exhibits.  The Hall of African Wildlife displays several animals found across Africa.  Several African species look very similar to ones commonly found right here on the Texas coast.  A couple of examples are the African Darter and Egyptian Goose.  The African Darter is an anhinga found in African marshlands and closely resembles it’s American relative, the American Darter (mostly referred to as simply anhinga in the Americas).  The Egyptian Goose, native to Sub-Saharan Africa, have been spotted in Texas in recent years (check out this article from Gary Clark for more information).


    For wildlife enthusiasts, the Farish Hall of Texas Wildlife is a must see.  Types of wildlife are separated by biologic provinces across Texas including exhibits on the Attwater Prairie Chicken and water birds in Galveston Bay.  Examples of gulls, herons, ibises, roseate spoonbills, and brown pelicans provide an up close look of these birds and really let visitors see details that are found on each bird.  The exhibit offers brief explanations of why the birds look the way they do and why they are an important part of the Texas coast.  An exhibit featuring upland forests of the Big Thicket is adjacent to the water birds and also provides an up close look at the habitat that make up a significant portion of east Texas.


    A larger wildlife exhibit depicts marsh swamps typically found along the Texas coast.  In this one exhibit alone, visitors can find over 20 different types of wildlife and all of them being found on Anahuac NWR at one time.  Black-Bellied Whistling Tree Ducks, red-winged blackbirds, nutrias, anhingas, King Rails, and alligators are all commonly found in the coastal marshes at Anahuac NWR.  Whooping Cranes and Sandhill Cranes have been spotted at the refuge, but are typically found further south down the Texas coast.


    Raptor exhibits are also available and help explain how conservation efforts have helped restore population in recent years.  The Peregrine Falcon, for example, was once an endangered species because of pesticides, but through governmentlegislation and protection tactics, this bird is now common once again. 


    For the emerging Lepidopterist out there, the Cockrell Butterfly Center is also a must see.  It includes several exhibits about butterflies and other insects.  It includes a three-story glass structure that is filled with butterflies found all over the world.  As soon as you walk in, butterflies are floating past your face.  It is a unique experience and a must do for those visiting the museum.


    Why is it significant to Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge?-

    As I was looking at the Texas marsh wildlife exhibit, I couldn’t help but notice the curious eyes of two young children who were asking their father what each of the animals were.  The sight was incredibly encouraging because it shows that kids, no matter how many video games they play or how much television they watch,are still captivated by nature.  


    The National Wildlife Refuge System strives to protect and restore animals, plants, and their habitats so they can benefit future generations.   Locally, Anahuac NWR and FOAR continue to support youth education programs through our reading programs, summer day camp, hosting school field trips, and always inviting families to participate in volunteer projects on the refuge.  Unplug from technology for a day and go outside to see the original “angry birds” game that happens in nature every day.  Visit YOUR Houston-area National Wildlife Refuges.  MJ

  • 30 Jun 2013 9:00 PM | Anonymous
    By: Matthew Jackson
    The History-

    The Hana and Arthur Ginzbarg Nature Discovery Center, located in Russ Pitman Park in Bellaire, TX (map), provides a unique opportunity for Houston residents to experience nature, literally right in their backyard.  It is located right in the heart of Houston mixed in with a residential neighborhood near the Houston Galleria and Medical Center.  The location boasts nature trails, a pocket prairie, wetland habitat, and the Historic Henshaw House.


    Frank Henshaw, Jr. (Bellaire Mayor from 1935-37) bought

     the estate in 1929 and it remained in the family until 1983.  That year, Hana Ginzburg and the Friends of Bellaire Parks, Inc. purchased the 4-acre estate after generating support in the community and receiving a matching grant from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.  The house was turned into a community center through the work of volunteers and in-kind donations.  Today, volunteers and staff at the Nature Discovery Center maintain the trails, plants, wildlife exhibits, and interpretive signs located around the park.


    Activities and Opportunities-

    The house now hosts the Discovery Rooms, which educate visitors about native wildlife in Houston.  One of the exhibits is the "Swift

     Cam", which offers a live video looking into a specially constructed chimney swift tower located on a trail near the house.  Trails outside of the house wind around different vegetation areas including a pocket prairie and a simulated wetland

     habitat.  Signs in the park discuss previous land cover in the area which included vast prairies before development took over.  It is interesting to see what the land would have looked like 100 years ago before being settled.


    The Nature Discovery Center also hosts week-long, nature-themed summer camps, nature story time, Scout programs, birthday parties for kids.  Additionally, The Nature Center hosts monthly lectures, bird walks at the 

    Center and in the neighborhood, and nature field trips to the surrounding area (including the Anahuac area).  The Center also took part in this year's Great Backyard Bird Count in February.  The public was invited to come to the site to record birds and submit their bird sightings.  

    This nation-wide event helps national level birding organizations such as the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Societywith research. 


    Why is it significant to Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge?-

    One of the first things you see when visiting the Nature Discovery Center is the bird sighting board.  Ongoing bird sighting records and other "citizen science" events like the Great Backyard Bird Count are gaining popularity because of the relative ease to capture large amounts of data and the increasing number of people who are showing interest in projects.  Anahuac NWR also participates in these events and counts on the public to capture data.


    Facing pressure from developers and the public can be difficult, but the Nature Discovery Center is a success story for wildlife and nature enthusiasts.   It is an excellent example of what individuals can do to make a difference.  


    It is sad to think that the land in this area will never again be the open prairie it once was.  It is reasons like this that make preserving places like Anahuac NWR so important.  Our local National Wildlife Refuges, for the most part, 

    remain untouched pieces of habitat that will provide invaluable information for research and a place for future generations to enjoy.  Much like the Friends of Bellaire Parks, the founders of the Friends of Anahuac Refuge left us a legacy and the resources to continue to grow at Anahuac NWR, in the local community near the refuge, and the greater Houston area.  Come enjoy YOUR National Wildlife Refuges.  MJ


    Information about the Nature Discovery Center courtesy of their website: http://www.naturediscoverycenter.org/

  • 16 Jun 2013 8:00 PM | Anonymous

    By: Matthew Jackson

    The History- The Houston Arboretum & Nature Center is located adjacent to Memorial Park right in the heart of the city (map).  The area has a diverse history dating back to tribes visiting the area because of the dense tree cover, freshwater, and edible plants.  By the early 20th century, landowners, industries, and even the War Department exchanged ownership of land in the area.  It wasn't until 1923 following the closing of Camp Logan when public support started for the creation of what would eventually become Memorial Park and the Houston Arboretum and Nature Center.  The Varner Realty Company, owned by the Hogg family,  purchased the land next to their River Oaks subdivision.  In 1924, they sold 1,500 acres to the City of Houston with a stipulation that it be preserved as a park.   In 1950, the city allocated 265 acres of the park to be an arboretum and botanical garden.  


    After 17 years of little progress in developing the Arboretum, the McAshan Educational and Charitable Trust donated funds for a new building and operating costs for the first five years.  Shortly thereafter, the Houston Botanical Society formed and managed the facility.  In 1967, the ground breaking ceremonies for the new children education building took place and were presided over by the U.S.Secretary of Interior, Stewart Udall.  Since then, the Houston Independent School District has integrated the facility into their curriculum.  More than 15,000 children visit the location annually through school and youth groups.  Over the years, the facilities have been expanded and the name was changed from "Houston Arboretum and Botanical Garden" to Houston Arboretum & Nature Center" to better represent the activities taking place.


    Activities and Opportunities- The arboretum today is 155 acres of preserved native land including five miles of nature trails, classrooms, and an interpretivecenter.  Trails travel through wetlands, meadows, and forest habitats and include interpretive signs describing plants and animals seen in the habitat. Nearly every plant species has at least one label to help identify them.  In fact, certain plants are identified as part of the National Phenology Network.  Plants that are part of the network are monitored throughout the year to track growth and health.  The monitoring is one of two ongoing citizen science projects happening at the arboretum.


    The arboretum, like Anahuac NWR, is located on the Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail and can be a great place to see birds in the city throughout the year.  It is completely surrounded by urban development meaning birds will congregate or "seek refuge" at the location.  Arboretum staff host wildlife walks for birds and other types of wildlife and organize an annual Christmas Bird Count as another citizen science project.


    Youth and adult classes on these topics are also offered regularly and provide unique experiences to those who are not as familiar to them.


    Why is it significant to Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge?- It is interesting to think about the development of the Houston Arboretum & Nature Center over the years.  Following land owner and land use changes for nearly 150 years, the original visitor center opening was overseen by the U.S. Secretary of Interior, Stewart Udall.  Only one year earlier, the National Wildlife Refuge System Administration Act of 1966 was passed which was immediately followed by a surge of new wildlife refuges across the country including several in the Houstonarea.  Why would the U.S. Secretary of Interior attend an event for a city level park?  Did the location garner interest from the federal government at a time when new refuges were being established?  Was Buffalo Bayou considered a significant enough habitat to be protected at the federal level?


    Whatever the case, the Houston Arboretum & Nature Center provides urban dwellers a chance to experience nature right in the city.  Much of what you will find at the Arboretum can also be found at one your local national wildlife refuges.  Come out for a look. MJ



    History of the HANC from Memorial Park, A Priceless Legacy by Sarah H. Emmott, "A Brief Summary of the Houston Arboretum and Nature Center" by Johnny Stowers, and other sources.

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The Friends of Anahuac Refuge was established in 1997 as a 501(c)3 non-profit organization based in Anahuac, TX.

For questions, call the refuge office at 409-267-3337.

Email: FriendsofAnahuacRefuge@gmail.com


Mailing Address:

P.O. Box 1348

Anahuac, TX 77514

Refuge Office Address:

4017 FM 563, Anahuac, TX 77514

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