Green Space

What Will Happen to the New Buffalo Bayou?

The status of the Cistern, the trails and the other destinations, post-Harvey.

By Sarah Rufca Nielsen September 12, 2017

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The Kitchen at The Dunlavy is open and operating normally.

Nothing symbolizes the new, reimagined Houston quite like Buffalo Bayou Park, the much-heralded 160 acres of greenspace and amenities that runs through Houston's inner core. Though the park was famously designed to flood, like much of Houston, it will be a while before the imprint of Harvey is removed from its landscape. 

Despite Buffalo Bayou rising nearly 39 feet at the Shepherd Drive Bridge during the storm, many areas of the park survived largely unscathed, according to Buffalo Bayou Partnership president Anne Olson. 

What's Open

Joggers, cyclists and others have probably noticed that the concrete upper park trails east of Shepherd Drive are open and in use again. The Lost Lake area, including The Kitchen at The Dunlavy, did not take on water and are open with normal operating hours. Same goes for the Visitors Center area near Sabine Street—food trucks have resumed service at the entry court Mondays through Thursdays, and Bike Barn is back offering bike rentals—but ve wary of any areas with lots of debris or sediment, which park employees are working on cleaning up as quickly as possible.

What's Not

At the Visitors Center, the Cistern was exposed to water and sediment and is in the process of draining—the electrical system appears to be unharmed. Canoe and kayak rentals through Bayou City Adventures are suspended through the end of 2017. On the south side of the bayou, the Wortham Fountain has been damaged, as was much of the trail lighting system. Another loss of the partnership: the majority of its maintenance equipment was lost when the maintenance yard flooded.

What's Still Under Water

Buffalo Bayou is still extremely elevated due to releases from Addicks and Barker reservoirs, and will likely remain so for several weeks more. That leaves the lower trails in the western section of the park and all the trails east of Sabine Street out of commission for the foreseeable future, as employees have not yet determined how much damage the flooding will inflict on the submerged landscape. The Johnny Steele Dog Park will be closed for two to three months, according to officials.

What's Delayed

The Sunset Coffee Building was designed to withstand flooding, with water flowing in its mesh doors and back out into the bayou. However, the building did receive damage to its electrical, fire and elevator systems, though officials say it was fortunate that the street-level flooding around Commerce Street did not lead to water inside the building at street level. 

What Floated Away

The worst damage visible thus far occurred east of downtown, where a floating boat dock was lost and the bayou suffered major erosion and bank failures, causing some trails to collapse. That's bad news for residents of the East End, as the next phase of beautification could now be years away considering the resources that will need to be deployed to deal with the varied efforts of Harvey. 

"Please know that we also will be working behind the scenes to analyze and document the flooding and erosion impacts downstream as part of our Buffalo Bayou East Sector master planning effort," said Olson in a press release. "Through this new project, we are in a unique position to play a major role in demonstrating how Houston can be developed sustainably and holistically, with resilient neighborhoods integrated with open space."

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