Island group acquires prime land to ward off development
Karla Klay has been at this for almost 15 years.
It was in 2003 that Klay began taking people out on Galveston Bay in kayaks, along with paint kits, with the hope of getting people interested in nature — and maybe in preserving it.
To say her project, Artist Boat, has expanded from its humble beginnings is to put it much too modestly.
“We are doing the heavy lifting,” said Klay, Artist Boat’s founder and executive director.
Today, Artist Boat owns 670 acres of land on Galveston’s West End. The group has acquired the land with $11.5 million from fundraising and grants. A series of land purchases in the past nine years has created a patchwork of connected parcels that stretch from beach to bay from 8 Mile Road to 11 Mile Road.
In late April, standing near a newly constructed outdoor classroom, Klay said she hoped to more than double the size of Artist Boat’s Coastal Heritage Preserve.
“They could put up a high-rise hotel tomorrow,” she said of the West End land that Artist Boat still seeks to acquire. “They could fully develop it. It’s still on. It’s not saved.”
The preserve and the new classroom are the centerpieces of Artist Boat’s mission of education through inspiration, Klay said. But it’s hardly the only presence the group has in Galveston and the greater Houston area.
Almost daily, the group’s 10 employees are participating in educational activities with grade-school students in Galveston, Pasadena or Houston. They might be helping to paint a coastal-themed mural, or taking the students out on the bay on kayak trips.
Artist Boat also organizes a project to place and paint 250 trash barrels along Galveston’s beaches and to decorate 80 seawall benches with educational art about the Texas coast’s ecosystem.
Last year, Artist Boat organized some 800 volunteers to do things like plant marsh grasses in its preserve.
It’s all part of a mission to get people to buy into Galveston as a place that’s closely connected to nature, Klay said.
“We really want to transform the minds of people,” Klay said.
Mother Nature certainly presents the opportunity to do that, she said. Galveston is a waystation for hundreds of species of migrating birds — many of which can be easy to miss if people don’t go out of their way to watch. That’s why Artist Boat focuses on guided tours, Klay said.
Artist Boat intends to keep going and growing, Klay said. But she hopes that the city of Galveston, and other surrounding communities, would someday put more effort into conservation, she said. While she credited local groups, including the Moody Foundation’s Permanent Endowment Fund, for supporting the group’s conservation mission, she dreamed of a day when government would invest money into buying and conserving land as green space, she said.
“I’ve been here 20 years,” she said. “I’m still doing it. If I come out here, I feel great about Galveston. How could you not feel good? But I do wish that my city and county did more.”