Scenic Galveston: Background information

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History
In the early 1990s, a traveler approaching Galveston, Texas on Interstate 45 would have seen a tidal marsh in the last throes of environmental death - an estuary marred by landfills, borrow pits, levee walls, billboards and topless bars.

In 1993, Scenic Galveston (SG) - backed currently  by more than 30 state and federal agencies, conservation groups, foundations, businesses and individuals - started a crusade to reclaim the natural gateway marshes to Galveston.  . SG began purchasing 900 acres of marshland along 5 miles of highway, acquiring the final parcel in 2001. The total cost was nearly $3 million - with $2.5 million from private or state funding, $300,000 grant from a North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA).

As parcels of land were acquired and restoration began, Scenic Galveston and partners removed over 2000 truck loads of rubble and junk from one parcel alone, the Pate tract. Efforts included:

  1. Creating 45 acres of channelized wetlands from an area with 14.5' levee walls deposited with  nothing but dredge spoil and heavy concrete
  2. Creating nine acres of wetlands and nesting islands for birds from an old gas pipeline facility
  3. Removing an old barbecue restaurant  and restoring wetlands to create the Reitan Point scenic area
  4. Creating a hiking trail
Today's traveler has much improved views on the way into Galveston while winter habitat for birds such as blue-winged teal, northern shovelers and American wigeons has improved significantly. More food is available for wading birds (notably roseate spoonbills, ibis and reddish egrets); oyster catchers, black skimmers and brown pelicans are year-round residents; hundreds of least terns are nesting on the new islands since 1999..
The estuary is now a designated site on Texas Parks and Wildlife's Great Coastal Birding Trail, testimony to the birding opportunities available.

Even after accomplishing so much, Scenic Galveston has a lot of work to do - for example, more new wetlands have been created in 2002 and 2003; every year sees a new action plan and much management work is scheduled for its newest acquisition, the contiguous Virginia Point Peninsula.  .The habitat conservation preserve has grown to 2,500 acres!

The high visibility of these restored wetlands has greatly assisted funding efforts, fostering many long-term relationships. We believe that our efforts - from fundraising to reclamation - can serve as a case-study, demonstrating what can be done to restore habitat given a little vision and a lot of tenacity.

Protection

SG's corridor wetlands surrounding (-45 to Jones Bay  (known as the John M. O'Quinn Estuarial Corridor) are permanently protected - both by outright ownership and by a conservation easement with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Organization

We try to keep things simple. At the heart of our organization is our dedicated board - indeed, many board members have been involved since our "What If?" days. The board includes professionals who donate services from general administration and accounting to wetland design and construction management.

A wide network of volunteers helps with the work required to create and maintain wetlands - picking up trash, planting marsh grasses, monitoring and more. For example, over each hot summer weekend in 2000, volunteers transplanted 100,000 stems of Spartina alterniflora and other marsh grasses. at Reitan Point, Marsh 6.

It should be noted that volunteer hours count two-fold; in addition to the work carried out, the hours can be leveraged to acquire grant dollars. Another local volunteer organization estimates that each hour donated by a volunteer may be worth as much as $14 in grant money.

Other ways to keep things simple include:
  1. We try to minimize the number of funding partners on any particular project - with no more than one federal partner
  2. To avoid volunteer burn-out and minimize accounting and reporting complexity, we attempt to avoid project overlap
Success

Our success can be measured in results - we can point to true wetland restorations - and in our ability to attract new funding.

Apart from our demonstrated capability to run lean and learn fast, part of our success can be attributed to designing and managing projects in-house - without paid consultants - maximizing the value derived from each grant dollar. We use minimal engineering with maximum field management; we are willing to experiment and change.  Every dollar raised has either acquired land for the preserve or restored degraded parcels. 

Come see the marsh. Help use enjoy our successes - and help us achieve more!