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The State of our Coalition

On March 20th we held our fifth Annual Meeting event. Begun in 2010 by our founding Executive Director, Regina Lindsey, the event is primarily designed to report on our programs and activities to our stakeholders and provide some funding for operations. Each year we’ve built upon the momentum and success of the previous event and 2014 was no different. A full report with lots of great photos will be coming in a newsletter but I am pleased to say that we exceeded our previous records for both attendance and revenue.

Judge Emmett’s keynote address was received with great interest by our audience. I appreciated his desire to project into the future and think in new ways about how the  government serves residents in Harris County. He spoke on a number of subjects, including the increasing need for better healthcare delivery and transportation systems, and commented about how an organization such as The Coalition that represents a watershed with a current population of more than 1/2 million people and growing can be a force for positive change by advocating to elected officials.

The annual meeting, followed shortly after by our board of director’s annual planning workshop, is a good time to reflect on the state of Greens Bayou Corridor Coalition. From my perspective we continue to be strategic and well-focused on our mission. We are becoming more financially stable and organizationally sound. We extend our reach into the community each year by interacting with residents of the watershed in a variety of ways. We have a strong advocacy program that is inclusive and strategic. Our board is active and engaged. We are reliable partners on projects and programs. My assessment is that much growth is necessary and expected before we reach our full potential but that we are positioned very well to accomplish our goals.

At next week’s board planning session we will be led by Coalition Founder Joe Wozny in a strategic planning exercise to determine how far we have come from the intent of our original founding members and what direction the board will take us in the years to come. I believe we are moving towards that positive force that  Judge Emmett described in his remarks. We kicked off an individual giving campaign at our annual meeting because it’s an exciting time be involved with Greens Bayou Corridor Coalition .One of the ways you can do that is by becoming a member.   I hope you will find a way to be part of our story.

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Participate. Engage. Vote. Repeat.

A new season is upon us. Spring? No, election primaries. Also known as the opportunity to help whittle the candidate pool down to a more manageable size! Like many states, here in Texas we line up in our D or R line at the polling location and sort through a seemingly endless list of familiar and completely new names and try to make an informed decision about who best to represent our interests at the governmental level. Frankly, it’s a daunting task. Only the most dedicated and plugged in will feel sufficiently educated to make so many choices. Much money is being spent to sway our opinions and create a preference when we enter the voting booth. A lot of words are spoken some more truthful than others.

A Texas “benefit” is the ability to vote in either party’s primary. We don’t have to limit ourselves to always voting from the R or D line. That is a good thing for more independent minded voters, like myself, as I will watch the primary races and decide where I can have the most impact with my vote. You will need to vote on the same party ticket if there are any run off races to vote on (and there surely will be this year). So, I hope you will vote either in the early voting period, which ends Feb. 28, or on election day on March 4. But your participation and engagement as a citizen and community member should not end at the voting booth.

You don’t need to get involved in party politics to be an effective citizen although if that is important to you then go for it! I do urge you to become aware of who is representing you at all levels. So many people focus their energy on who represents them in the White House or Congress that they forget that it’s the municipal utility director, the school board trustee, the city council member or their state representative who’s actions have the most direct impact on their daily lives. Learn who these people are and what laws and regulations they are tasked to oversee. Communicate with their staffs when you want them to know there is something you’d like changed. Communicate with them when you think they are doing a good job. My preference in a representative is that they collaborate and engage with all colleagues no matter the party or political bent so I look for someone who shows those collaborative skills when working with constituents.

It’s a lot of hard work being an informed voter but our country depends on all of us making an effort. Don’t rely on your friends or Facebook or CNBC or Fox News to tell you how to think. Do some research on your own and find a way to get involved and engaged. Now, get out there and vote!

P.S. If your interested in learning more about how Greens Bayou Corridor Coalition engages in issues advocacy attend our Annual Meeting on March 20th, 2014. Our keynote speaker will be Harris County Judge Ed Emmett and we’ll be honoring Houston Mayor Annise Parker. See you there!

 

Disclaimer: All opinions expressed here are mine (Executive Director Jill Boullion) and do not  necessarily reflect any official policy positions of our board of directors or staff.

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Here Comes the Judge!

Join us at our Annual Meeting on March 20th as we welcome Harris County’s Chief Executive Office, Judge Ed Emmett, as our keynote speaker. County CEO since March 2007 Judge Emmett is known as an expert in transportation and logistical issues and frequently addresses organizations about those subjects and many others. Always candid and forward thinking we are truly excited to have Judge Emmett with us to talk about how the Greens Bayou watershed and our work on flood mitigation, parks & trails development and water quality improvements fit into his vision for our region. For more information on the Judge you can visit his official website.

 

One of the hallmarks of Judge Emmett’s tenure has been improving relationships between county and city government. So I think it’s particularly noteworthy that we will also welcome Houston Mayor Annise Parker and honor her for her leadership on the Bayou Greenways Initiative. Because of Bayou Greenways Houstonians will have access to an extensive system of trails along our defining natural feature: our bayous! Several areas of Greens Bayou fall within city limits and we welcome the opportunities for improved mobility, recreation and health these pathways will provide for those communities in our watershed. Our hope is that our county government will notice how all living in Harris County want to have these kind of connections

Along with these two notable Houstonians we’ll recognize special contributions from some dedicated volunteers. We will present our Bayou Buddy award which recognizes the highest level of stewardship to our partners at LyondellBasell. With their adoption of Thomas Bell Foster Park as part of their 2013 Global Care Day project they have opened up Greens Bayou to kayakers and given us a beautiful new world to explore.

Our coveted Volunteer of the Year Award will go to two special gentlemen this year. Our South Reach Chair and Vice Chair, Omar Escobar and Charlie Patout, both of LJA Engineering will be honored for going above and beyond at Thomas Bell Foster Park. Without their dedication and months of planning the Global Care Day project would not have happened. Because of their work we now have a park that has welcomed hundreds of paddlers in the last year and will someday be a jewel in the city’s park system.

So as you can see it is going to be a very special day to celebrate a lot of very cool and special people. You absolutely must be there and be a part of it. Sponsorship information is available from Candice Pauley at CPauley@GreensBayou.org and individual tickets are available for purchase through our web site.

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We Love Big Trees and we cannot lie!

It was our great pleasure to welcome Mickey Merritt of the Texas A&M Forest Service to a recent East Reach Committee meeting to give a presentation on champion and notable trees found in Harris County. The east reach of Greens Bayou includes a many acres of undeveloped and public lands that contain a number of county champion trees. And that’s just those we already know about.

 

The committee learned a lot about how a champion tree is determined (a combination of circumference x height x crown spread) and the process for nominating and verifying a champion tree. Mickey shared some great resources to learn more about the grand trees found across our nation, state and local area. If you are interested in learning more you can go to: americanforests.org/our-programs/bigtree and texasforestservice.tamu.edu and for local trees haufc.org/tree-registry. We learned that they have identified 12 champion or notable trees in the Greens Bayou watershed, including the first Common Sweetleaf his has seen in the area.

The exciting news for the committee is that Mickey feels there are other giants to discover in the east reach wilds along Greens Bayou and he offered to let us help him track them down and identify them. The next edition of the Harris County Tree Registry will be published in 2015 and we’d love to see more of our special Greens Bayou specimens on the list. And through our volunteer tree planting projects we are creating the champion trees of the future! Through partnerships with Trees for Houston, Harris County Flood Control and CenterPoint Energy the Coalition has been adding trees to our area several times a year. Our next project will be on March 15 so let us know if you are interested in planting some shade for future generations!

 

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New Leaders Bring New Energy

Happy New Year! Our board and staff have jumped into this new year with great enthusiasm  and we’re already off and running on great plans for 2014. Four new members were added to our board at last week’s meeting and I’d like you to  get to know them a bit.

Elected to fill an unexpired board term, Rudy Lopez is a Commerical Lender at the northside lending group of Amegy Bank of Texas. Rudy was born in Monterrey, Mexico and holds a Bachelor of Science degree from The Citadel. He also studied International Business at the Instituto Technologico y de Esudios Superiores de Monterrey. He is a baseball fan and enjoys snowboarding. Our lack of snow in the watershed did not deter him from enthusiastically agreeing to join our board. Welcome, Rudy!

Shanna Lopez (no relation of Rudy’s!) is a native of Louisiana and graduate of and dyed-in-the-wool LSU Tiger fan. She is Public Sector Marketing Manager for Waste Management and specializes in working with homeowner associations and municipal utility districts. Shanna has been a dedicated GBCC volunteer along with her four kids who are some of our most experienced kid-size tree planters! She lives in our East Reach and has been involved in some capacity in each of our four reaches. We’re delighted to have you on the board, Shanna!

Paige Donnell is a PR guru and principal of Paige PR. She has a BA in Journalism from Texas State University and we’ve heard through the grapevine that she is a world-class golfer! Paige has a strong background in PR for the energy industry. She also has a lot of her own energy and has jumped right in to assist us in polishing our PR and fundraising efforts. You are just what the doctor ordered, Paige!

And last, but not least, we welcome Fangyi Lu a landscape architect with SWA Group.  I got to know Fang working together on the Harris County Flood Control District’s Halls Ahead Study and then she began attending our East Reach Committee meetings. Fang has a great passion for our bayou systems and has already provided pro bono concepts for a wetlands outdoor classroom project for GBCC. Fang is a native of Beijing and a graduate of Huaqiao University in Fujian, China with a Bachelor of Architecture and University of Houston with her Master of Architecture degree. We look forward to harnessing her intense interest in bayous to make Greens Bayou a better place. Welcome, Fang!

Two special women make our Advisory Committee an even stronger group. We welcome Texas Parks and Wildlife Urban Biologist Diana Foss to that august group as well as Houston Parks Board Executive Director Roksan Okan-Vick. Ladies, we are honored to call you “advisors”!

Rich Gallegos of Costello, Inc. was appointed by our Board Chair as our new leader of our Paddle Trail Committee. Thank you, Rich, for taking on this new and exciting project!

We also honored Mike Castro for his service as our long-time board secretary. Mike will remain on our board but is leaving our Executive Committee. Todd Burrer will take his place on the committee and Regina Adams was elected to be our new Secretary. Led by our steady Chair Bill Franks this group of 25 board members is truly extraordinary!

So stay tuned for lots of great things from this great group of committed leaders.

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Looking Back With Gratitude

Before the new year is officially welcomed in I am pausing to look back at 2013 with the greatest of gratitude for all that has been accomplished in the Greens Bayou watershed. Unlike 2012 when we released our Parks and Trails Master Plan it was a year of more quiet accomplishments. Much like the bayou when the weather is calm it may not have appeared on the surface that a lot was going on but underneath that placid facade a volcano of activity was underway! We are so grateful for the hundreds of dedicated and passionate volunteers that continue to attract such great energy to our organization.

 

Here is a baker’s dozen of some wonderful developments that we are celebrating from this past year:

1)      An increase in membership support of 127% from $110,000 in 2012 to more than $140,000 for 2013

2)      Completion of phase 3 at Ida Gaye Gardens adding a raised-bed community garden and, through a partnership with Leadership North Houston, an herb garden

3)      Intensive stakeholder outreach for two Master Plan regional trail projects in the West Reach. These projects involve 8-10 utility districts each and visioning workshops are being planned for 2014.

4)      Project concepts for a community trail involving Halliburton, East Aldine District, International Investors Group and other community stakeholders in our North Reach

5)      Project concepts for Bradfield Park in partnership with Greenspoint District

6)      Project concepts for a 43 acre nature park on Garners Bayou and a commitment from Waste Management to develop parking and security along with financial support of the project in our East reach

7)      Project concepts for a wetlands outdoor classroom in Sheldon ISD (East Reach) and development of corporate partnerships to support project implementation

8)      Construction of a canoe access facility, 1600’ of trails, 6 park benches and an entry sign at Thomas Bell Foster Park in our South Reach through a partnership with LyondellBasell and other corporate partners

9)      Since May about 500 people have taken the Greens Bayou Eagle kayaking tour with Bayou Shuttle Service from Foster Park

10)   An ongoing Paddle Trail Strategic Planning process with the National Park Service that will open up a 27.5 mile stretch from Greenspoint to Galena Park to paddlers

11)   New partnerships and funding from Halliburton Charity Foundation, Entec Polymers, TPC Group, Costello Engineering and others

12)   A continuing partnership with Houston’s premier private foundation, Houston Endowment, to support our organizational development through a multi-year grant

13)   Focused and strategic public policy initiatives at the local, state and federal levels

I am especially grateful to our dedicated board of directors who provide vision and steady leadership as we continue to grow and expand our reach into the community, to the support staff at Greenspoint District for providing not only administrative and marketing assistance but for being our daily work family, to Candice Pauley for the way she has embraced our mission and shared it so enthusiastically and to every volunteer who has worked side-by-side with us to make our watershed a better community for all. Happy New Year!

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West Reach Community Support

We had a great time at our booth today at the Houston Northwest Chamber’s Holiday Business Expo. The room was full of vendors and chamber members which provided a lot of opportunity to talk about the projects that we are working on in northwest Harris County. We are building community support for two proposed trail projects.

The first proposed project is located between Highway 249, Cypress Creek Parkway (FM 1960), Veterans Memorial Drive and Beltway 8. The trail project would provide recreational opportunity and some alternate transportation to the 33,000 people living within those boundaries. Connected to a future trail along Greens Bayou stretching from Willowbrook Mall to Greenspoint Mall a kid living in Greenwood Forest could ride his bike all the way to the new Spring Skate Park on Rankin and Kuykendahl and never have to ride in traffic. Wouldn’t that be great?

The second proposed trail project is on upper White Oak Bayou near the intersection of Jones Road and Fallcreek. Trails around an two existing Harris County Flood Control District wet bottom detention ponds could provide a number of neighboring communities with a healthy and safe place to walk and enjoy nature. And, there is a possibility that some public art could be a feature of this project. How many great public art installations can you think of in the CyFair area? Just north of Jersey Village a trail along upper White Oak could tie residents into Jersey Village and, eventually, the greater White Oak Bayou trail system in central Houston.

We rely on our chamber partners to help support and spread the word about these community projects and they are always willing to help because they know that trail projects increase real estate valuations and create happier, healthier communities. If these projects are something you’d like to see happen please contact us through our web site and find out how you can help.

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To be a trusted partner

We were thrilled on Tuesday to be honored as the Greenspoint District’s 2013 Partner of the Year. Pictured here (left to right) is Michelle Wogan, Greenspoint District Chair, presenting the award to Jill Boullion, Executive Director (that’s me!) and our Board Chair, Bill Franks. It was a great surprise and a huge honor because the Greenspoint District is the organization I refer to as our “incubator”. They have provided support to get us successfully off the ground and we continue to share office space with them. They also provide a great example of how a well-run organization goes about its business.

 

The award got my wheels turning about partnerships and what makes them so important. Despite the “Lone Ranger” image that we Americans often conjure up to describe our national character truly nothing great is accomplished alone. We are all elbow-to-elbow here on this blue planet and collaboration and partnership are at the heart of our survival and ability to thrive as fellow humans.

 

We take our partnerships seriously here at The Coalition and we are serious about our reputation as a trusted partner. We recently received news from Houston Endowment that we will receive a 2-year grant for $100,000 to support our organizational development. This is the third grant we’ve received from Houston’s premier private foundation and we take their trust in us very seriously.

 

 

So we seek to be a trusted partner in all of our endeavors from small to large. We will show up when and where we said we would, pay for what we are expected to pay for, honor the agreements and contracts we enter into, be honest when there are challenges that need to be resolved and overall seek to be true to the trust reposed in us. We are truly grateful for all our community partners, like Greenspoint District, that continue to have faith in our commitment to our community and shared interests.

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Thankful for Parks and Trails

As my favorite holiday of the year, Thanksgiving, approaches I always try to pause, breathe deeply, and remember all the things I have to be thankful for. The list is long and getting longer each year I add to my life. A good sign that I’m finding ways to live in a way that is meaningful to me! Today as I wrap up things here at the office and prepare to spend time with family over the holiday weekend I am reflecting on all the things we have to be grateful for here at Greens Bayou Corridor Coalition. It is also a long, and growing, list. I decided to share a focused list of “thankfuls” provided by the National Recreation and Parks Association about why we should be thankful for parks. May you find a special time and place this holiday weekend to remember what makes your life rich and meaningful.

1. Parks and recreation allow us to become healthy and stay fit for adults AND our youth making the connection that getting active and eating healthy is fun and good.

2.  Parks are places to see wildlife and experience nature, breathe in fresh air and appreciate what is natural and wholesome around us; they pass on the benefits of conservation and stewardship and cultivate a new appreciation for nature among the next generation.

3.  Parks and recreation are great places to walk, hike and bike, maybe even pick up a new activity like skateboarding or pickleball.

4.  Parks are places to enjoy a picnic – who doesn’t love to eat al fresco!

5.  Parks and recreation bring generations together. Not only that, they bring all types of people together no matter age, race, income and ability. Community parks and recreation is one of the highest and best forms of ‘public good’—the right to enjoy your life, your health and your liberty.

6.  Parks are places for festivals, concerts, art displays, music, craft fairs and community events. Where else can you find all that?

7.  Parks and recreation provides places for sports—teams, individuals, practice and tournaments. Many elite and even some pro athletes got their start at the local park and rec.

8.  Parks can revitalize underserved communities transforming them into vibrant destinations.

9.  Parks and recreation provide a safe place for kids and are one of the largest providers of care during out-of-school times (afterschool, before school, weekends, holidays and the summer).

10.  Parks and recreation offer the opportunity to volunteer and give back to our communities, the environment and others. On the flip-side, they are where we can go if we need help – many of our local parks provide low- to no-cost meals, enrichment programs, senior care and therapeutic recreation opportunities.

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Back to work on Greens Bayou Paddle Trail

Our paddle trail planning process took an unexpected break while the federal government was shut down for several weeks in October and our partners at the National Park Service were on an unanticipated vacation. But the good news is we are back at it and things are happening. The Advisory Committee will be meeting next week to review all the data captured by our volunteer paddlers over the summer. And there was lots of it! Volunteers paddled in groups from Greenspoint to Galena Park and by all reports had a great time doing it! Not only did they uploads lots of data points they had plenty of stories to tell about the bayou and the people the met along the way. Many of our Greens Bayou neighbors are very excited about the trail.

 

Last week our Technical Advisory Committee did some additional field investigation of seven proposed access points. We started at Brock Park and learned quickly that the vegetation and terrain provided a lot of challenges for our first stop. Thanks to Grady Hicks, Eric Ruckstuhl of Bayou Preservation Association, Rico Torres of Bayou Shuttle Service, Diana Acker of REI Houston along with our National Park Service partner, Kathryn Nichols, for spending a full day with GBCC staff to take an up close and personal look at some very diverse and interesting spots!

 

In addition to Brock Park we visited a site near the Halliburton campus on the North Belt, Crowley Park, Smokey Jasper Park, Mt. Houston Road and Strickland Park. Our thanks to Glenn Laird and Layne Yeager from Harris County Flood Control District for their assistance and expertise as well. Some potential sites will take a great deal of planning, engineering and construction while others are likely only to require a minimal amount of alteration to make them work for paddlers. So keep checking back here to our blog and if you want to get more up-to-date paddle trail updates make sure you are a fan of our Facebook page or follow us on Twitter.

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