Follets Island Follies?
Fourteen of us were standing in the middle of a full parking lot, school buses were unloading excited students, cars and people were moving in and out of the parking lot and heading in all directions, rain was threatening, people were looking at me as the leader with questions in their eyes, my guide was running late, in other words I was in a “pickle”!
Many months before I had chosen the last Saturday in September, September 24, 2016, for an outing to Follets Island to see the famous (or perhaps unheard of) “Strand Prairie”. Little did I know that I had chosen the day when “National Public Lands Day” and “Trash Bash” are celebrated. The parking lot at Stahlman Park, usually quiet and all but deserted, was a beehive of activity as people prepared to go to their section of beach on Follets Island for the clean-up.
Unlike a football game, I could not just “punt”, sooooo … I said, “Our guide Mike is running a little late. Let’s go to the beach and look at what there is to see.” Brilliant statement … not! So off we went, ducking groups of people and beginning to cross the boardwalk that went over the sand dunes, marsh, and coastal prairie.
We stopped briefly, to look at these ecosystems, squeezed in by nearby residential beach development (houses on stilts) and then continued our walk until we were on the beach. I talked about how important wind and waves were for movement of sand across a barrier island like Follets Island. Any project, whether highway or storm surge suppression (picture a giant levee), that interferes with these natural ecological processes disrupts or destroys their function.
After about 15 minutes we walked back to the parking lot, which was much less congested, and looked for Mike. As we scanned the parking lot in drove Mike. Mike is not only a friend but a person I admire greatly. He spent 36 years as a wildlife biologist with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and now works for Trust for Public Land, buying in partnership with local, state, and federal governments important ecological, biological, scenic, and recreational lands.
Mike laid out a map on the back of my car. He explained how Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) was engaged in a special project called the Follets Island Conservation Initiative. To date, TPWD had acquired about 441 acres of land on Follets Island so that important habitats like coastal prairie, freshwater marsh, brackish marsh, saltwater marsh, oyster beds, seagrass beds, etc., could be protected. Mike assists TPWD with additional land acquisitions.
People asked a lot of questions and then we got going. Mike took us to several of the acquisition sites and told us about the importance of this coastal landscape. We enjoyed a bit a birding as Mike and others pointed out Brown Pelicans, a Reddish Egret, Willet, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, and other shore and wading birds. Mike showed us wetland plants like Smooth Cordgrass (Spartina alternaflora) and Salicornia and prairie plants like, Little Bluestem, Bushy Bluestem, and Gumweed. The fall bloom was on and Bluets, Sea Lavender, and Fire-wheel showed us their stuff.
We also visited a small Brazoria County park toward the eastern end of Follets Island. We stood on the boardwalk and watched a flight of Brown Pelicans approach along the beach, like WW II B-25 bombers sweeping over our heads. A stately Great Blue Heron showed off for us and maneuvered a fish and then swallowed it. Which reminded us we were hungry and its was time for lunch. As we walked out I pointed out a lone Bluebell. I called it the last blooming Bluebell of the year.
We headed back to the parking lot, got everyone’s car, and then drove to the Red Snapper Inn. We had a great seafood lunch, I had a shrimp po-boy with a cup of gumbo, and then said goodbye and headed home.
On the way home it rained like crazy. When we first approached Stahlman Park at the beginning of the day, it rained briefly and then stopped. Someone looked out for us and held off the rain while we enjoyed Follets Island. I was very grateful that what could have been a “folly” had turned into a beautiful day with great people and a lovely, natural landscape. Score one for Nature. I will be back!
September 24, 2016
The next HNPAT/Sierra Club field trip will be November 12, when we will visit Deer Park Prairie.