In the heart of Houston, hemmed in by the 610 Loop, the Gulf Freeway and the East End, sits a beautiful little marsh. Thousands of lilies, rushes, sedges and irises are growing in the marsh. Turtles are basking on logs. Fish leap out of the water and snowy egrets stalk through the mud, hunting for baby shrimp and crabs. Texas Parks and Wildlife Biologist Andy Sipocz says it wasn't too long ago this area was a hill covered with tallow trees.
"We're standing on a hill up about 20 feet above the project. Before the project, this high ground actually extended all the way to the edge of the bayou. So they actually removed about 20 feet depth of earth over this entire project area to make the channel wider so that it could carry more flood waters. And then on top of that, we had them excavate a couple extra feet and shaped it to make these nice pond areas."
The wetlands came about through a partnership with the Harris County Flood Control District. It's part of Project Brays, a $450 million flood mitigation effort. The Brays Bayou Marsh, here at Mason Park, wasn't in the original plan. But Flood Control District Director Mike Talbot says the marsh was built as a bonus to help filter the water that flows into the bayou.
"This area had wetlands, historically, it's been channelized for the last 50 years that lost a lot of that capability. So it's been a real interesting project to come back in and try to add some of the functions and values of the wetlands that used to be here decades ago."
Storm sewer run-off from the surrounding neighborhoods flows directly into this marsh and then into the bayou. Talbot says the marshes help filter out herbicides, pesticides and motor oil from the streets and ditches. Along with the wetlands, the area also now has walking trails and educational signage about the plants and wildlife. Sipocz says the marsh has only been accessible to the public for a short time, but is already becoming an attraction for area residents.
"A lot of folks spend a lot of time walking around on the bayous and all, and that really was an important part of the project. There are always people that come out here and when the bridge is built to the main portion of the park there's going to be a lot more visitation. But no, there's -- this area's heavily utilized by the public already."
The Brays Bayou Marsh is located on the north side of the bayou, in Mason Park and is accessible to several neighborhoods, including Harrisburg, Idylwood and Magnolia Park. Laurie Johnson, Houston Public Radio News.