Park Alert

History

Colorful sunset over the coastal prairieSheldon Lake State Park & Environmental Learning Center is a 2,800-acre outdoor education and recreation park in northeast Harris County.

TPWD purchased this land in the 1950s to provide a refuge for migratory waterfowl, a public fishing lake and a fish hatchery. It opened in 1955 as the Sheldon Wildlife Management Area. The hatchery closed in 1975, and the land began to revert naturally to forest, ponds and marshes. It became a state park in 1984.

Urban development covers what was once a rural area surrounding the park. Sheldon Lake is now a green and blue oasis for wildlife and people on the edge of Texas' largest city.

The lake

Alligator perched on the edge of a logThe federal government constructed the Sheldon Reservoir in 1942 on Carpenter's Bayou, a tributary of Buffalo Bayou. It provided water for World War II industries along the Houston Ship Channel.

The eastern half of the lake was drained in the 1950s for construction of the Houston West Canal. That canal brought drinking water to the city from Lake Houston.

Today, the reservoir levees encompass over 1,200 acres, of which 800 are under water and 400 are marsh and swampland.

The prairie

This area has changed many times over the last century. Farms and ranches replaced much of the prairie and almost all the marshlands originally here. Over time, the city of Houston overtook the farms and ranches.

The prairie here flooded in 1943 after the construction of the Sheldon Reservoir dam.

After the draining of half of the lake, agriculture returned. Crops including rice, soybeans, corn or sorghum grew here. Some of the land lay fallow each year for wintering waterfowl and wildlife.

The habitat

While the land has changed many times, eventually this historic habitat will thrive again. The landscape will never look like what those first settlers saw when they crossed Carpenters Bayou or the prairie. But Texans will be able to enjoy the coastal tall grass prairie once more.