Restoration of 290 acres of bald cypress swamp, bottomland hardwood forest and savannah began on June 1 at Sheldon Lake State Park on the northeast side of Houston.
Intercontinental Terminals Company (ITC) has undertaken this project to replace wetlands at the site of its new terminal on the Houston Ship Channel. ITC is funding the $825,000 project and has hired Atkins (formerly PBS&J) to provide planning and supervision.
Constructed in 1942 as a water source for war industries, the restoration site is adjacent to Garrett Road, located at the upper end of Sheldon Lake. While the reservoir was undergoing dam repairs in the early 1970s, Chinese tallow, a small tree native to Asia, invaded the marshland after it was introduced into the area as a landscape plant.
ITC is funding the restoration plan that Atkins is implementing with oversight by state park staff. The plan calls for mulching the Chinese tallow and replacing them with long-lived bald cypress, oak and pine to provide much needed homes and food for the many birds, bobcats, deer, alligators and other wildlife that live in the park.
“This is a project that has been on the books for over 20 years,” says Robert Comstock, Sheldon Lake State Park superintendent. “The park didn’t have the means to accomplish it, but by partnering with ITC we will be able to make significant improvements to the upper reservoir habitat.”
The shallow edge of the lake that dries out each summer and fall will be planted with a mix of pine and tall-grass prairie, similar to what existed at the site prior to the land being cleared for farms and as seen in 1930 photographs.
One-half of the Chinese tallow has now been cleared from the site and the planting of bald cypress, nuttal, and water oak, green ash, and water elm trees will begin this winter. Planting of bluestem, gamagrass, and switchgrass prairie will occur next year after the mulched tallow has decayed.
The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department will manage the forest and prairie along with approximately 300 acres of former farmland they’ve previously restored to prairie and marshland.