Leave the City of Houston behind with its tall buildings, stadiums and busy streets and drive east on I-10 where in less than an hour, you’ll find the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Galveston District’s Wallisville Lake Project and feel like you are in an entirely different world. Instead of the hustle and bustle of the big city, the Wallisville Lake Project offers visitors a chance to enjoy lazy rivers, picnic areas and peaceful hiking trails.
Its pristine environment coupled with its recreational opportunities including boating, fishing and bird watching, makes it easy to forget that Wallisville serves a vital function for the people of the City of Houston and Chambers County.
“The Wallisville Lake Project is an approximately 23,000 acre complex designed to prevent saltwater intrusion up the Trinity River in order to conserve fresh water and to protect fresh water intakes for local municipalities including the City of Houston,” said Supervisory Natural Resource Manager Richard Long, USACE Houston Project Office. “This is done by the operation of a saltwater barrier (a navigational lock and a control structure) during times of low river flows and drought on the Trinity River.”
While protecting one of the sources of fresh water for Houston and their neighbors to the east, the primary mission of the Wallisville Lake Project and a critical Corps mission, the site also provides many recreational opportunities – which draws more than 200,000 visitors to the Wallisville Lake Project annually and more than 5.3 million to Corps’ projects throughout the district each year.
“Many people are not aware that the Corps is the leading provider of outdoor recreation on all federally-managed public lands in the United States,” said Long. “Within the Southwestern Division alone we oversee nearly 12 million acres of land and water and are responsible for more than 11,400 miles of shoreline, 90 lakes and 1,495 recreation sites.”
The Southwestern Division consists of four districts: Fort Worth, Texas; Galveston, Texas; Little Rock, Ark., and Tulsa, Okla., and boasted the most visited recreational areas in the entire Corps in 2011 with 72,097,979 visitors.
“Wallisville is one of our most popular recreational sites in the district that provides people with a tremendous opportunity to experience the great outdoors,” said Long. “The project offers visitors a unique experience to see and do things that simply aren’t available in a city while getting exercise at the same time.”
The reason the Wallisville Lake Project offers visitors so many recreational opportunities is because of its varied landscape.
“The topography of the Wallisville is unique and it contains several different habitats for visitors to experience,” said Long. “Within the project are marshes, riparian forests, swamps and several lakes and is home to the largest remaining intact cypress swamp along the Texas Gulf Coast.”
With the project’s varied habitats brings an array of wildlife that calls Wallisville home ranging from deer, bobcat and otter to the American alligator.
Situated along a main migration route, the Wallisville Lake Project has quickly become an important nesting and resting area for birds and a destination for birding from around the world. So much so that the Corps built an observation deck at the Trinity River Waterbird Rookery to accommodate and enhance the experience for the thousands of birding enthusiasts who visit the project every year.
“We constructed a boardwalk facility that leads to the edge of a marsh area where numerous waterbirds nest during the spring,” said Long. “From that vantage point, visitors can look over the marsh and see a great variety of different birds.”
Other popular destinations within the project includes the J.J. Mayes Wildlife Trace, a three-mile driving nature trail that meanders through the marsh as well as a number stops along the trace for visitors to stop and observe the wildlife. There is also a .8-mile hiking and wheelchair-accessible boardwalk.
The Trinity River Island recreation area is best known for its premier fishing location and includes boat launching facilities, a fish cleaning station, observation towers and picnic areas.
To help educate visitors about the Wallisville Lake Project’s environmental importance and recreational opportunities, USACE Galveston District actively partners with the Gulf Coast Bird Observatory, Houston Wilderness and Waterborne Education Center and works closely with Chambers County (responsible for operating additional parks on the facility).
While the Gulf Coast Bird Observatory’s primary interest focuses on educating visitors about the birds that inhabit the project, the Houston Wilderness centers on promoting the outdoor opportunities available to Houstonians, and the Waterborne Education Center works to increase awareness about the value of the wetlands, marshes and aquatic habitats in relationship to the coast and the bays in the area. Together, these agencies continue to cultivate stewardship and an appreciation of the natural and historic resources available to Houstonians and visitors alike.
“These partnerships are important for the Wallisville Lake Project,” said Long. “Our partners help us educate thousands of visitors each year about the area’s environmental importance and encourage people to visit the project and use our recreational facilities.”
So the next time you’re looking to leave the city behind and explore another side of Houston, consider reconnecting with nature at the Wallisville Lake Project.
To learn more about the Wallisville Lake Project, visit http://www.swg.usace.army.mil/Locations/WallisvilleLakeProjectOffice.aspx.