East End Lagoon project goes slow, but steady, islanders say
Crews have completed a half-mile loop trail at the East End Lagoon on Galveston Island, one step forward in what has often felt like a long slog in the mud.
Since a master plan was completed in 2011, development of a proposed 700-acre recreation area and nature preserve off Boddeker Road on Galveston Island’s East End has seemed mostly on hold.
But project manager Sheryl Rozier of the Galveston Park Board of Trustees, which oversees island tourism, reports that the loop trail is open for visitors, complete with interpretive signs, after years of planning.
Bids for a remediation project adjacent to the lagoon will be going out soon, Rozier said.
“This will clean up the shoreline and allow for human-powered watercraft like kayaks and stand-up paddleboards to more easily enter the water,” Rozier said.
The master plan — generated by a steering committee that included Texas A&M University at Galveston Marine Sciences Professor Bill Merrell, park board trustees, a city council member and representatives from the Galveston Island Nature Tourism Council — can still be viewed online and draws a picture of a state-of-the-art educational and recreational facility free and open to the public all year, an attraction that could be an important educational component of nature tourism on Galveston Island, officials say.
The area bounded by the seawall to the north, East Beach and the Beachtown residential development to the south, acres of water and wetlands to the west and the ship channel to the east, remains the largest undeveloped piece of land on the island. A haven for water birds, the open space frames views of huge tankers and ships waiting to enter the channel in one direction and calm water framed by waving tall grass in the other direction.
For many decades, the road has been a strip where locals like to drop fishing lines in an area called Big Reef and has served as the long entryway to Apffel Park on East Beach.
The Galveston City Council approved the master plan for the recreation area and nature preserve in February 2011, but has been slow to come with funding to move the project forward over the past decade.
Last year, the park board announced it had “received the green light” for moving ahead on plans for the preserve, including building an open-air educational pavilion, based on the promise of $1.4 million in funding through the federal Restore Act. Restore Act dollars, administered by the U.S. Treasury, are civil penalties related to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
“We’re currently awaiting funds from Restore for the construction of the facility,” Rozier said. It’s not clear when those funds will be in hand or how long construction of the pavilion will take, she said.
The original master plan is still being used as a “guiding principles document” for the site, but a new business plan is being developed to help formulate and forecast income and expenses for the project, Rozier said.
The master plan calls for a site where visitors can learn about tidal lagoons, wetlands, grasslands, dunes, intertidal marshes and seagrasses on the island.
The plan is to keep development along the edges of the acreage while limiting development in the interior. The plan calls for “laying lightly on the land,” continuing to keep the lagoon and surrounding wetlands undeveloped open space but with trails, restored habitat where it has been degraded and only necessary infrastructure development, like parking lots and the pavilion, along Boddeker Road.