HOUSTON — Exploration Green is a community project in Clear Lake that serves two purposes. When the weather is nice, it’s a place where neighbors can connect with nature. When storms hit, it keeps nature away from neighbors.
"This is really a resilience project," says John Branch, Clear Lake City Water Authority board member.
In 2005, the water authority decided to buy a 178-acre golf course.
"It took another six years to complete the purchase and another two years after that before we completed the master plan, which was completed based on community input," explains Exploration Green Conservancy member Frank Weary.
The community wanted flood protection.
"The common model at the time was to dig a hole and put a fence around it. That was it," Branch says. "We wanted more than that."
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Exploration Green is the result. Phases 1 and 2 are complete. Work is underway on Phases 3 and 4. Phase 5 is untouched so far.
"It’s been very gratifying," says Weary.
Even before Phase 1 was finished, when Harvey hit, the project delivered on its goal when it prevented flooding in about 150 homes.
"Proof of concept: it works," Weary says.
Once Phase 5 is complete, organizers say Exploration Green will offer 500 million gallons of stormwater retention with the potential of saving 2,000 Clear Lake homes.
"This has done a lot for the community," says Conservancy member David Sharp.
He adds more than 300 people use the area each day, walking, biking and jogging the trails. One thing you’ll notice on the trail is that it’s about six to eight feet below the main grade. That gives homeowners a little privacy and people on the trail a more immersive experience.
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"When you walk the trails, you don’t feel the houses around you," Weary says. "You feel like you’re out in the middle of a nature reserve."
That's especially true during the seasonal migration that brings thousands of birds through Clear Lake.
"They need a place to stop and rest. So the bird habitat island was designed to bring them in, a safe place to rest," says Branch.
The water around the island protects the birds from predators coming after them or scaring them off.
"You’ll see flocks of different birds come through and stay for a few weeks, then move on," says Matt Forster, Exploration Green's land steward coordinator.
If you’re wondering about the unofficial state bird of Texas – the mosquito – not to worry. The nature park is home to bats, chimney swifts and mosquitofish.
"I can get eaten alive by mosquitos in my backyard and come out here and not get a single bite because the birds and nature take care of it," Branch says.
All of this is a massive effort spearheaded by the Exploration Green Conservancy in partnership with the Clear Lake City Water Authority and powered by volunteers.
"We’ve got over 1,000 volunteers that made this possible," says Sharp.
They plant trees, build habitats, donate benches and keep the area clean.
"What we’ve done is converted an abandoned golf course into a water retention facility that prevents flooding in the Clear Lake area and also made it into the beautiful community amenity that you see here today," Sharp adds.
Exploration Green's design has been recognized by a number of state and national organizations. Learn more about those here.