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Houston Regional Group - News
Canoe/Kayak The Cypress Wonderland - May 14, 2011
Tom Douglas

On May 14, twelve paddlers joined Tom Douglas and Linda Shead on the shore of Lake Charlotte at Cedar Hill Park, several miles northeast of where the Trinity River crosses Interstate Highway 10. Special thanks to Gus Cei, who arrived early and helped out with several aspects of logistics during the trip.

A breeze from the north brought low humidity, with a high temperature only in the low 80s. For a sunny day, we saw or heard an unusually large number of birds. Among them were: anhinga, black-bellied whistlingduck, common egret, great blue heron, green-backed heron, little blue heron, pileated woodpecker, white ibis, and yellow-crowned night heron. Pickerelweed was in full, beautiful bloom – very showy with its violet-blue flowers up on the bank, due to the low water level. Another object of interest was a water moccasin eating a fish. And, everyone got to see at least one alligator.

0602.jpg (22669 bytes)The forest of bald cypress trees that surrounds Lake Charlotte protected us from the wind as we crossed the north end of the lake and turned into Mac Bayou, where it became evident that the dropping level of the Trinity River was causing a noticeable flow of water out of the swamp and into the river. The effects of the drought were evident as we paddled up to Mac Lake, finding that access to another small lake was blocked due to the low water level. Returning to the old Texas Gulf Sulphur barge canal, we again noticed the outflow of water from the swamp as we paddled west to the Trinity River. Here, we saw that the forest is completely different – being dominated by black willows and Chinese tallows that colonized the area after it was disturbed to create the canal.

Heading upstream along the Trinity, we noted that the forest had changed yet again. Now it was made up of trees such as sycamores, which are typically found on the raised natural levees that border rivers in this region. During lunch on a large sandbar, we all introduced ourselves and exchanged ideas about why we (or anyone) would want to spend a day paddling through the largest cypress swamp on the Texas coast. It was an animated and diverse group that included people from Alvin, Baytown, Beach City, Clute, Cypress, Houston, Pasadena, and The Woodlands. We also learned about some of the area’s human history and natural history, including how, during the eighteenth century, the Trinity River almost became the boundary between New Spain and New France (later Texas and Louisiana).

On our return trip to Cedar Hill Park, we explored all of the way to the east end of the barge canal. As we headed back down Mac Bayou, one paddler with especially sharp eyes spotted a wood duck nesting box that had been installed there several years back. For this feat, he shared the day’s Treasure Hunt prize with the person who had spotted the stone marker for the line that separates Chambers County from Liberty County.

At the mouth of Mac Bayou, we observed another of the many effects of human interventions in this natural system. Because the barge canal allows water to shortcut from the Trinity River over into Mac Bayou and then down through Lake Charlotte, a great deal of sediment from the river is now being deposited into the northern end of the lake. An island that began forming several years ago, after the levee across Mac Bayou was breached, has now grown to the point that it is a heavily vegetated peninsula. If the barge canal remains open to the river, the rate at which Lake Charlotte becomes filled in by river sediment will be greatly accelerated.

Cutting back across Lake Charlotte to Cedar Hill Park, we completed our seven-mile trip. We loaded up our gear and enjoyed slices of ice-cold watermelon. This was a fine day outdoors.

If you would like to read more about paddling in this area, you might want to check the article on the Trinity River that appeared in the May 2010 issue of Texas Monthly magazine.

June 2011

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Last updated:  06/12/2011.   Content 1999-2011 by the Sierra Club.