Volunteers work to preserve thousands of acres of coastal habitat
About 1,000 acres of salt marsh in the John M. O’Quinn I-45 Scenic Estuarial Corridor provide a stunning entrance to Galveston.
Scenic Galveston, a conservation organization and land trust, is responsible for the lush spots of saltgrass along Interstate 45 that can take on any color of the rainbow, reflecting sunsets and any mood of the sky. The permanently protected wetlands span from the interstate west to Jones Bay.
Volunteers with Scenic Galveston have planted a lot of saltgrass since 1992, when the organization started on the island as a garden club and a highway beautification group opposed to billboards.
“We bought the first piece of land in 1995,” said Lalise Mason, board secretary.
Her mother, Evangeline Whorton, who is president, founded the group.
Scenic Galveston has no paid staff, no office and thousands of acres of land in a trust.
Mason, who is a landscape designer by trade, applies for grants and acquires land to add to the conservation and preservation of the coastal habitat.
The organization continues work on the Virginia Point Shoreline Protection erosion project, which begins at the end of the Galveston causeway bridge and stretches east for about 2 miles.
The erosion project includes placing limestone rocks just offshore to break water and capture the wave action. Sediment from the bay bottom stays behind the rocks.
“There’s a huge amount of hurricane resilience to protect the shoreline,” Mason said.
Birds, fish and crabs have made the marsh their habitat, another goal of the organization.
“That’s what makes it a living shoreline,” Mason said.
Groups of volunteers have worked with the organization over the years. Some help with bookkeeping and others plant seagrass.
“I maintain the fences and work on controlling the evasive vegetation that is constantly invading the preserve,” volunteer Troy Bellmyer said. “The scenery and the people are the reward.”
Earlier this year, a group from Texas Conservation Corps planted seagrass off Virginia Point.
A volunteer plants a single stem of seagrass about 3 feet from the next single stem in the shallow water.
Spartina alterniflora, the scientific name of the grass, will multiply and grow from a single stem to a patch about the size of a plate. Over time, the plate-sized patches will stretch into organic shapes as they lazily reach out to each other.
Retired physics professor Gerald Hite has planted hundreds of tubs of seagrass, he said.
“Some were simply transplanted from our own area, others were donated from other sites,” Hite said.
Along with other volunteers, Hite has hauled out tons of tires and other trash from the marsh along both sides of the interstate, he said.
“It is healthy work with plenty of fresh air and sunshine,” Hite said. “It’s helping the very young gain an appreciation of the beauty around us and to instill a feeling of stewardship to maintain and preserve what little we still have of areas of natural beauty.”