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