Willow Waterhole Greenway flourishes

July 22, 2009 3:53:15 PM PDT
Development has created more opportunities for Houston, but it also costs land that wildlife used to call home.But, in southwest Houston, near South Post Oak, it's coming back. As it turns out, all it needed was a little space courtesy of a flood control project.

As Houston is waking up to another day, the residents of Willow Waterhole are already fed and watered, and looking for more.

And for birdwatchers, it's a sight to behold.

It is a wildlife photographer's dream.

More than a hundred varieties of birds from colorful cardinals and warblers to hawks and their chicks, combined with herons and seagulls, is what makes Willow Waterhole such an unusual concentration of so many different birds.

"You have to go all the way to Galveston to see these kinds of shore birds," one local wildlife enthusiast said. "We have three basins of water here, so you do have shorebirds unique to the city."

And yet, only a few years ago, the 280-acre habitat didn't exist. It was filled instead with apartments that chronically flooded. The land was bought by Harris County Flood Control and carved into a series of detention basins. That's not all -- the transformation continues. There are new plantings, and along the Willow Waterhole Bayou, wooded areas have been preserved as nesting areas.

"We have learned valuable lessons about making flood control projects very environmentally-friendly, and this is a great example of that," Harris County Flood Control representative Heather Saucier said. "All you have to do is come out here early in the morning with a pair of binoculars."

Harris County partnered with the City of Houston, which provided picnic pavilions and pedestrian bridges, so that it's now park space and a bird sanctuary right in the middle of the city. And, it earns its keep. During a storm, it contains water and prevents homes from flooding. The rest of the year, it provides open green space for people to explore and see how nature can coexist with people, if invited.

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