Leaders and volunteers at Exploration Green Conservancy—a former golf course turned stormwater detention pond between El Camino Real, Bay Area Boulevard and Space Center Boulevard—have continued construction, planting and maintenance on the conservancy’s five phases amid COVID-19.
The conservancy will host a wetland walkabout event Feb. 13 from 10 a.m.-2 p.m., in which attendees can take guided tours of primarily Phase 1 and learn about the various wetlands and wildlife there. It takes 45-60 minutes to walk around Phase 1, conservancy Chair Frank Weary said, and trails are wide enough to establish 6-8 feet of distance while walking.
Exploration Green has been receiving support from conservation nonprofit Texan by Nature, an agreement that Weary said may be extended due to the pandemic. Texan by Nature has helped find leads on grants for Exploration Green, including one recently awarded for Phases 5 and 3B, and has assisted with updating the conservancy website and social media accounts, Weary said.
If $500,000 in matching grant funds from the state could be secured for an entry plaza, project funds would be complete, Weary said. Yearly maintenance costs will range from $100,000-$300,000, he added, and he referred to a visitor center on Phase 1 as a “wishlist item” for when funds become available.
Work will soon begin to revamp the main parking lot on Diana Lane, changing its orientation and repaving to cover potholes. Streetside parking will be available for visitors while the lot is unusable. The funds to do so will come from funds for Phases 3 and 4, Weary said.
“That’s not an inexpensive project, but it's something that needs to be done,” he said.
Phase 4 is more than 50% excavated, and Phase 3A, which is now open for use, is virtually completed; tree and grass seed planting on Phase 3A will begin in the fall. Phase 3B is in the final stages of permitting, and construction will start in the first quarter of 2021, Weary said.
Phase 2, which is also fully open, will have benches put in and repairs completed this summer. Tree planting is virtually complete on Phase 2, Weary said. Once Phase 4 is complete, work will begin on Phase 5, likely in late 2021. Wetland and tree nurseries will need to be relocated to the west side of the conservancy once Phase 5 is developed, which will be in 2022 at the earliest, he said.
About 15,000 wetland plants have been planted so far in Phase 1, and 5,000-6,000 have been planted in Phase 2, Weary said. When the conservancy is completed, about 5,000 total trees will be present across sections, including both the existing native trees and those being planted by various volunteer groups, he said.
Wetland planting is generally coordinated by Texas Community Watershed Partners, which is sponsored by Texas A&M University, but staff are not permitted to conduct group planting activity due to COVID-19. There is, however, a much longer planting season for these species, Weary said, and they are being stored in the wetland nurseries until they can be properly rehomed around the various phases.
While the pandemic has slowed some conservancy progress, Clear Lake residents are taking advantage of its amenities more than ever, Weary said. Particularly this spring, he saw a major increase in traffic: While there were previously up to 200 visitors per day, the conservancy now sees at least 300 visitors every day of the week, with traffic peaking on weekends, he said.
“There’s still a lot of people that are still discovering the area,” Weary said.