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San Jacinto Marsh Project Wins Coastal America Award
HOUSTON – A project to restore the site of the battle for the independence of Texas from Mexico and to preserve one of the last natural tidal marshes on the Houston Ship Channel has been selected to receive a Coastal America Partnership award in a recognition event set for Dec. 9.
The award to the San Jacinto Marsh and Interpretive Trail Project is bestowed to only a handful of outstanding projects each year by Coastal America, a partnership of the Executive Office of the President of the United States, 12 federal departments, and state, local and private organizations.
To date, the $600,000 San Jacinto project has directly involved some two dozen federal, state, local and private partners. The project has restored 115 acres of the historic marsh and constructed a trail system through the marsh and adjacent prairie and bottomland forest. As a result, dozens of species of birds, along with river otters, coyotes, alligators and fish, have returned to the marsh, as have thousands of school children and other visitors.
The project is part of a larger effort to restore the entire battleground and its environs to their historic condition and provide better interpretation of the site’s cultural and natural values to the public. More than $15 million has been spent on both restoration of the grounds and the 1936 San Jacinto Monument itself. Funding has been contributed to the restoration effort through a number of sources, including the Texas Corporate Wetlands Restoration Partnership (CWRP), a public-private partnership that supports the goals of Coastal America and the State of Texas to protect, restore and preserve wetlands and aquatic habitat areas for present and future generations to enjoy.
P. Lynn Scarlett, U.S. Department of the Interior assistant secretary for policy, management and budget, will present the award on Dec. 9 on the prairie overlooking the project site.
“It brings me great pleasure to be presenting this award,” Scarlett said. “Your effort, from the federal and state government, to non-profit organizations, to private citizens and corporations, indicates your collective dedication to preserving the historic and natural resource values of this special place.”
In his letter of congratulations, President George W. Bush added, “By restoring this wetland, you have protected valuable habitat from degradation and preserved an important landmark of our country’s history. This project is in line with my administration’s goal of a net-increase in our nation’s wetlands over the next five years. I applaud and support your efforts to bring together collective resources to meet common goals and better our coastal environment.”
At the time of the famous 1836 Battle of San Jacinto, where some 800 Texas volunteers defeated a larger and better equipped army of Mexican regulars, the two armies were hemmed in on three sides by Buffalo Bayou and the San Jacinto marsh. The marsh played a crucial role in the outcome of the battle, as it prevented the escape of hundreds of Mexican soldiers routed from their encampment by the unexpected afternoon attack. Since 1836, however, the marsh has suffered from subsidence, erosion and use as a dredge disposal area. By the 1980s, the original marsh was unrecognizable.
In 1993, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) organized a task force to study the causes of marsh loss and look for solutions. In 1996-97 water control structures were constructed and clean, dredged sediment was pumped into shallow-water areas to raise the elevation to inter-tidal levels. This allowed marsh grasses and other wetland vegetation to become re-established, creating the important habitats necessary for proper functioning of the marsh system.
By 2000, the new marsh was teeming with birds and other wildlife, and park visitors - especially local schoolteachers - began requesting that TPWD construct a trail to provide access to the marsh. Bolstered by assistance from educators, volunteers and several grants, the first phase of the trail, which crosses 700 feet of prairie and 500 feet of marsh, was opened to the public in April 2002. Response to the trail exceeded expectations, attracting not just classrooms of public-school children but nature-watchers and other members of the general public. Many trail users said they had never seen a tidal marsh up-close before.
Almost immediately, plans began to take shape to expand the trail system. The success of the project attracted more partners, and another $177,500 was donated to complete the boardwalk portion of the trail across the marsh, making possible the completion of a 3-mile trail loop. The loop includes a marsh observation deck, two outdoor classroom areas and views of the battleground, monument and Houston Ship Channel. In some places, no development is visible at all, and visitors are amazed to discover a little slice of wilderness planted in the middle of one of the largest petro-chemical industrial complexes in the world.
”Most people understandably think of San Jacinto as an important place in Texas history, but it is also a vital natural area,” said Robert L. Cook, TPWD executive director. “By restoring the marsh and creating trails and interpretive facilities, we’ll have a richer experience for our visitors connecting natural and cultural history.”
The Coastal America Partnership was established in 1992 to protect, preserve and restore coastal watersheds by integrating federal actions with state and local government and non-governmental efforts. Federal partners include the Departments of Agriculture, Air Force, Army, Commerce, Defense, Energy, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, Navy, State, Transportation, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Executive Office of the President.
To recognize outstanding partnership efforts, Coastal America established a national awards program in 1997. In 2002, the Coastal America Partnership Award went to the TPWD-led task force for wetland restoration efforts at Galveston Island State Park. The San Jacinto Marsh and Interpretive Trail Team is one of 10 partnership initiatives selected to receive the 2004 award.
The award will be presented to the team at 10 a.m. on Dec. 9 under a tent overlooking the marsh on the north side of the Monument. Immediately following the ceremony, TPWD project manager Ted Hollingsworth will lead a tour of the project site and trail for anyone interested.
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