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Battle Lines Are Fading on Armand Bayou Preservation

February 28, 2017 GMT

This Houston Chronicle piece ran on April 4, 1971. The headline and words are reprinted as they appeared then.

Battle line draws between conservationists and land developers over preservation of Armand Bayou appear to be dissolving in an agreement proposed with the blessing of Thomas R. Langford Jr., county flood control engineer.

Armand Bayou, a stream rising in the Golden Acres area of Pasadena, meanders southeast 18 miles into Mud Lake, bordering the Manned Spacecraft Center. Mud Lake empties into Clear Lake east of the Harris County Home for Boys.

Formerly known as the Middle Bayou, Armand Bayou was renamed last year in memory of Armand Yramategui, naturalist and curator of Burke Baker Planetarium. He was murdered in a hold up on Southwest Freeway in January, 1970.

Canalization Feared

Most of the land through which the bayou flows is owned by Friendswood Development Co., a subsidiary of Humble Oil Refining Co. Rumors of plans to canalize the bayou as a step forward developing homesites in the area caused anxiety among the conservationists and led to their joint action in protest.

Representatives of the Audubon Society, the Bayou Preservation Society, the Sierra Club and the Texas Conservation Council banded their efforts to have county authorities and the Texas Parks & Wildlife Commission intercept development plans.

Jimmie D. Coker, Pasadena consulting engineer, says the bayou had its source in runoff from a quicksand stratum which also feeds the source of Little Vince Bayou, although the two streams follow different courses.

Bayou Drops Slowly

This is at a level of 34 feet above sea level. Armand Bayou then drops slowly, reaching a level of zero to four of five feet above sea level for its final flow through widening swampland.

Two other streams feed the bayou: Big Island Slough about five miles above its mouth and Horsepen Bayou another two miles below. In seasons of heavy rain, the swampland usually extends to the big Island tributary and it is this “wet area” the conservationists are particularly worried about because of its value as a shore bird refuge.

Charles L. Pence, vice-president of Friendswood in charge of Clear Lake division, has submitted a plan that will guarantee that no housing development will infringe on the areas which are not 15 feet above sea level and pledge no clearing or construction of any type below the 13-foot level. This decision sets aside 800 acres of land surrounding the bayou that will remain untouched.

Langford said the flood control district since 1949 has periodically done work on the bayou as far as up as Big Island Sough to clear debris and trash has done “some enlarging to improve runoff. He emphasized, however, there has been no dredging and will be none.

Refuge Proposed

Pence’s plan would leave the banks and surrounding woodland untouched and the “wet lands” would be preserved as a refuge. It is approved by Norman Waldo, Rice University biologist who has run surveys for the conservation groups.

Waldo said if at least a half a mile stretch of land where the woods meet the prairie on either side of the bayou is kept untouched also, many of the birds will have nesting grounds and will be able to remain indefinitely.

Victor Manuel, of the Audubon Society, says the bayou should be preserved not only because of its many lifeforms, but as a concept for urban planning. He said the region is “like a centerpiece on a table, it enhances the whole area.”

Mrs. Lawrence Dexter, of the Texas Conservation Council, said her organization feels it “is important to preserve the vicinity of a city to show that the city and natural areas are compatible” and there is no reason to destroy wilderness in the name of the progress.

Limited Access

The bayou is accessible only by canoe in many areas. The banks are lined by palm, pine, oak and cedar trees. The region includes estuaries and swampy bayou regions, which are fast disappearing along the Gulf Coast.

Emanuel said the aquatic life includes gars and alligators and a number of birds becoming rapidly rare. Canoers often flush out egrets, cranes, ducks and sometimes rare tropical bird, anhinga, often called the snake bird because it swims submerged except for its head.

Mrs. Hana Ginzbarg, chairman of the Bayou Preservation Assn., wants to keep Armand Bayou that way. She says that Friendswood is a “very forward-looking firm” with its eye on preserving lands as well as developing them.

Would Protect View

She said she hopes that canoers will not soon find drainage pipes, power lines, easements and houses spoiling the view. Mrs. Ginzbarg also said that Pasadena, which has extraterritorial jurisdiction over the bayou will not dump effluent into the waters, but will build a drainage canal, to remove its treated sewage.

Richard Labrecque, conservation chairman of the Sierra Club, said his organization is working with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission in hopes of the state procuring the land as a natural reserve or to provide funds to purchase some of the surrounding timber and prairie lands not included in the Friendswood plan.

He said Friendswood cannot be expected to carry the entire burden by donating all the acreage the organizations would like set aside because of the high value of the land.


The Armand Bayou Nature Center was incorporated in 1974 on land purchased through efforts individuals, organizations and government entities, according to the center’s website. Harris County is property owner of record and the center has a 99-year automatic rollover lease agreement with full management, preservation and development responsibilities. The center, which encompasses 2,500 acres, has a boardwalk that goes through forest and marshes, live animal displays, bison and prairie platforms, butterfly gardens and an 1800s farm site. There are also various trails.

A Chronicle story on Dec. 9, 1976, marked the opening of a new facility for the center. An excerpt from that story follows:

A beloved Houston Naturalist, Armand Yramategui, a man who had worked hard to preserve the natural beauty of this area, was brutally murdered during a mugging almost seven years ago.

His friends, who shared his dream, continued his campaign to save a stretch of bayou running through the NASA area. They began asking for donations to purchase the land and turn it into a retreat for the public, a sanctuary which would be named for their friend Armand.

Sunday their dream comes true.

The public will have its first view of the Interpretive Center, the new headquarters-learning center-library-public hall of the Armand Bayou Nature Center Inc.

Armand Bayou now courses through Armand Bayou Park, which was purchased from Friendswood Corp through the joint efforts of the city of Pasadena. Harris County and private donations. The Armand Bayou Nature Center Inc., a nonprofit group, leases the park from the county and operates it for public benefit.

Volunteers are already conducting trailside classes in basic ecology and appreciation of the outdoors.