[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Guest post by Justin Hicks, a legal intern with Bayou City Waterkeeper during the spring 2020 semester.
Earlier this spring, during American Wetlands Month, I decided to run a 50K ultramarathon (approximately 31 miles) along the Spring Creek Greenway. I hoped to see the creek and the preserved land along its banks firsthand, beginning at the Spring Creek Nature Trail’s northern trailhead in Creekside Park West and ending at the Spring Creek Greenway’s southern terminus at I-69 in Kingwood.
As I reflect on events over the few months, stories like Christian Cooper’s offer important examples of how race—and racism—affect access to green space. Houston is one of the country’s most racially diverse major cities; however, access to parks, prairies, and other green spaces are often planned through a white (and privileged) lens. With funding opportunities for increased green space and recreation, our region’s stakeholders must consider equitable access in its planning. In addressing equity, we must consider the nation’s historical relationship of Black and Brown Americans to these spaces.
Within Greater Houston, Bayou Greenways 2020—a collaboration between the Houston Parks Board, Houston Parks and Recreation, and the Harris County Flood Control District—is one initiative attempting to improve access to underserved areas. In assessing this public-private initiative, Houston Parks and Recreation funded a study by Rice University to intentionally consult with Black and Brown residents in its planning process.
Although the Spring Creek Greenway is not technically part of Bayou Greenways 2020, it fits with the initiative’s overall vision of collaborative conservation and equity. In fact, the busiest portion of the greenway trail—between I-45 and I-69—passes through 77373 and 77338, two ZIP codes in which Black and Brown residents comprise a majority of the population.
Spring Creek emerges from a field near the northwestern corner of Harris County. The creek separates Harris County from Montgomery County along its 64-mile journey to the west fork of the San Jacinto River in Humble. It is one of only two natural creeks in Harris County, remaining free of channelization or concrete along its course, offering natural views, clear water, and access to recreation opportunities along and within its banks.
The Spring Creek Greenway—a collection of forested tracts on both sides of the creek—serves as an important buffer between the creek and nearby development to reduce flooding, conserve plants and animals, and provide outdoor recreation opportunities. It is the longest, contiguous, urban forested greenway in the nation. It also serves as a model for how the Houston region must preserve its floodplains and wetlands to achieve long-term resiliency.
The greenway’s dense forest offers additional flood prevention benefits, even as it bears the brunt of flooding from storms like Hurricanes Harvey and Imelda. With partners like Bayou Land Conservancy, which has partnered with Precinct 3 of Montgomery County to preserve over a dozen sites on the north side of the Spring Creek, Bayou City Waterkeeper works to encourage local governments to choose nature-based solutions to address flooding and advocates to preserve wetland-rich areas similar to the Spring Creek Greenway across the Lower Galveston Bay watershed.
Along the more than 30-mile run, I documented how the creek evolves from a relatively narrow stream to as wide as a major river. I collected my photos in this slideshow. Click through to read more about what I saw:
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Justin Hicks is a rising third-year law student at the University of Houston Law Center. Originally from McKinney, Texas, Justin graduated from Southern Methodist University in 2016 with majors in Biology and Spanish and a minor in Human Rights. He enjoys trail running, cycling, and exploring Houston’s natural gems. He is passionate about sustainable flood resilience and wetlands preservation, particularly in the Spring Creek and Greens Bayou watersheds. Justin had the opportunity to complete the Bayou Land Conservancy’s Spring Creek Ambassador Program last year, which is a free adult environmental education program open to the public to learn about the greenway and how to participate in the organization’s work. An avid runner, Justin recently completed a 50K along the Spring Creek Greenway’s trails.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]