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Hidden Houston

Hidden Houston: Buffalo Bayou

On our occasional series Hidden Houston, Houston Public Radio’s Rod Rice reports on the places and people that help form the fabric of the area. One of those places is at the very heart of Houston. The Allen brothers founded the city along the banks of Buffalo Bayou, and indeed the Bayou is well known and well used from Shepherd east to the ship channel. Today, though, we explore the upper reaches of Buffalo Bayou.



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It’s a section of the bayou that most people never see and know little about. West of Shepherd most of the land on either side of the bayou is private and because its banks were never cemented for flood control it flows under a natural canopy that makes Buffalo Bayou one of the largest urban wilderness areas in the country. Recently Frank Salzhandler and Janice Van Dyke Walden guided a group of students on a canoe clean-up of the bayou. The canoes were launched near Woodway and Post Oak Lane.

“What’s amazing is that you feel as if you could be a hundred miles away from Houston and not even know you are right in the middle of one of the largest cities in the country. And if it weren’t for Terry Hershey, the lady who this canoe is named after, Buffalo Bayou would also be a cement box. She saved this channel from being cemented in by the Army Corps back in the 1960’s. And she’s our hero because this is still close to being recoverable as a nice natural habitat.”

Janice Van Dyke Walden grew up along the bayou but says she never appreciated it when she was younger. Now, she says, she’s reconnecting with it.

“The embankments here at Woodway are unusually high. Just a hundred feet down or so from the bridge crossing at Woodway, the embankment goes up about 60 feet or so. And so for people who think that Houston is a flat place right down here about a hundred feet you can see rock outcrops, sandstone ledges, you see grapevines draping down, you see Sycamores, Sycamores only grow on the south side of the embankment. You start noticing things like little Herons start following you all day down the bayou and they trip along with you like a kid who’s playing hooky out of school.”

Turtles rise, fish jump, hawks soar and the canopy rustles to the accompaniment of birds.

“And if we go down further here you’ll see a tree that looks like somebody has just, just ripped up the bark and its beaver. And there are several trees along here that we saw a couple weeks ago that are beaver bitten trees. I’ve grown up here and I’ve never seen a beaver, but telltale signs of a beaver knawin’ on a tree and they’re somewhere here.”

And all of this natural wonder just below high rise office buildings and condos in the middle of Houston. But all is not well with the upper reaches of Buffalo Bayou. Trash is one problem, that’s the reason Frank Salzhandler’s Endangered Species Media Project joins with The Clean League for Environmental Action Now to hold these canoe clean-up efforts. Erosion is a problem and so too is water quality, but there are efforts underway to make the bayou the greenest urban wilderness area.