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Building a Better Bayou

A Brief Breakdown of the Riparian Restoration Initiative and its Beautiful Benefits

I remember, when I was younger—when I was much more caring and carefree—I’d come home in the afternoon from elementary school with a half-full bottle of water—one that was previously filled to the brim at the start of the day. Stepping out of the car, I’d calmly approach the bushes and one lone aloe vera plant that decorated my house’s front yard. And as I would tip the bottle, I’d watch the liquid pour out the plastic container, waterfall down, and drain into the soil next to my feet.

There would always be a dark patch of dirt left over from the water that had sunken deep into the ground—and every time upon seeing it, I’d smile. That dark patch was my daily proof that I had done something good for my environment. And for me—being the little kid I was at the time—that was enough to make me satisfied.

Nowadays—after so many years of time and change—it takes a little more than it used to fill me up with the contentment that I used to get from those small dark patches that would litter the ground in front of my house. There’s always so much I want to do—but more often than not, not enough opportunities to do them.

However, on October 23rd, one opportunity suddenly eventfully appeared—and it was one that would cause major benefits to our world’s ecosystems, too. And the members of our Sustainability and Environmental Awareness (SEA) Club, who have all shared similar experiences with me—the barren, coarse ground spread across the land under our tiny sneakers, and the patches of dark, drenched but gratifying dirt—jumped at the chance to truly make an environmental-ly huge difference.

On that Saturday, the SEA Club took part in the tree planting event at Charlton Park, hosted by the Houston Parks and Recreation Department (HPARD) and the Student Conservation Association (SCA). From 9 A.M. to noon, SEA members and other volunteers helped to plant 250 trees at the park along Simon Bayou as part of the Riparian Restoration Initiative. And although I did not personally participate in the event, I’m more than delighted to receive the honor to report on the event from the perspectives of my fellow club members who did—and thus, I do so alongside my primary reference, SEA Club’s very own president, Merry Ding. And furthermore, admirably, there is an abundance of tales coming from all of the SEA Club’s members regarding this noteworthy and valuable event.

SEA Club Operations Manager Eliza Khan (left) and SEA member Nhi Tran (right) working while surrounded by the gorgeous and scenic natural landscape of the bayou at Charlton Park.

(Photo courtesy of Merry Ding)

The Riparian Restoration Initiative helps to rebuild wetland habitats, helping animals and the environment by planting trees in areas surrounded by bodies of water. The term "riparian" refers to narrow strips of land adjacent to bodies of water such as streams, rivers, or wetlands, and which in this case, is the Simon Bayou.

There are many environmental advantages that come with planting trees within the bayou. Trees can prevent mudslides and flooding with their thick roots that soak up the water during heavy rains and hold the soil together. During the hot Texas summers, trees in the bayou also provide shade for many creatures and protection from the scorching sun. Even dead trees are immensely useful to the wetland habitats; fallen trees naturally restore and rebuild river banks and are able to stabilize sediment deposits, the soil, and the land of these wetlands. This fortifies the river and its surrounding banks which provides safe opportunities to an abundance of organisms to build their homes within.

Furthermore, planting these trees will even have a positive social and emotional impact as well. Plenty of trees are available to take shelter under during the summer, a time when many civilians and their families and friends come to visit the bayou for entertainment, relaxation, or exercise. People can stay under the shade of these trees while they hold picnics, outdoor birthday parties, hikes, walks, bike rides, and other enjoyable activities during the summer months. And the process of planting the trees themselves is a soothing, systematic procedure that not only allows our SEA Club members to take a refreshing mental and physical break from school and their hectic schedules but also lets them socialize and have fun while doing so.

At the start of the event, our SEA Club members collectively picked up shovels, got on our gloves, and were led down to the large field right next to the bayou where we would be planting the trees. The ditches had already been uniformly dug out by the HPARD workers, and while the SCA Club’s job was to transport the trees to the site of the planting, the SEA members were in charge of planting the trees into the ground. We shoveled hard, nutrient-rich dirt and clay into the ditches and broke them down into smaller bits with our shovels. Then, we pulled the young treelings from their temporary pots and placed them into the earth. Next, we shoveled the remaining clay and dirt outside into the freshly filled ditch. While we planted these trees, some of us worked in groups of two or three, while others planted trees on their own. Both work cohorts were equally efficient and fulfilling.

SEA Club members working both individually and in teams to plant trees.

(Photo courtesy of Merry Ding)

And finally, hours later, we were satisfied as our time eventually ran out after the entire club had successfully planted around 30 trees total.

We knew it was going to be hard work, and we were all a little hesitant and unsure when we first started. However, after planting the first two trees, the SEA Club ultimately got into the rhythm of the planting system. Our work became faster and faster as we simultaneously started to have a lot of fun.

A successful job well done!

(Marshall Fu (far left), Dev Patel (second to left), SEA Secretary Diana Puerta (third to left), Nhi Tran (third to right), SEA Operations Manager Eliza Khan (second to right), SEA Founder & President Merry Ding (far right), Natalie Lopez (not pictured)).

(Photo courtesy of Merry Ding)

Along the way, we even learned some fun facts about how to properly plant our trees to give them the best chance of prosperous and flourishing life in their new homes. For example, these tips include:

  • Plant the trees higher in the ditch than you would think. (The trees will sink as the clay soil softens, and planting them too low could kill them).

  • Massage the roots of the tree to help keep it stable, balanced, and upright.

  • And many more intriguing tricks that have yet to be told.

To learn about such crucial environmental impacts and some neat tips and tricks for planting one of the most vital foundations of our life on Earth, trees, our club members were gratified to have participated in this instrumental and productive planting session. A few of them narrated their experiences with positive outlooks full of hope for the future of the bayou: “The experience itself was really a connection of mind and body with the earth,” says Merry Ding. “The HPARD event leaders talked to us about the purpose these little treelings served and how they would play a key role in improving water quality along the riparian corridor of the bayou. The effect that these trees [when the saplings have grown and matured] would have on the ecosystem around them would be tremendous. Knowing the immediate impact on the environment that these trees would have was really fulfilling.”

“It’s a really humbling experience,” states Merry. “[It] made me realize how tree-planting not only helps our environment but also helps us through the sensation of connection and rebirth through nature. It really kind of is a spiritual thing. I hope we can come back to Charlton Park [in the future] and be able to proudly say, ‘See, I planted those trees right there.’”

As for that future—well, hopefully, in the next hour, there’ll be rain to quench the thirst of the bayou’s inhabitants. Hopefully, tomorrow, the roots of the newly-planted trees will start to take a permanent hold within the earth of the wetlands. Hopefully, in a month or two, those roots will continue to cling tightly onto the land as the rain showers down, keeping the soil intact and stable for the abundance of organisms living upon or in it. Hopefully, in the next few years—or even, in the way distant future—I’ll be able to personally visit Charlton Park and see for myself, a dark patch of earth sitting next to the stalks and roots of a flourishing ecosystem and a healthy, bountiful, and beautiful environment.

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Save Buffalo Bayou. “Bayou Basics | Save Buffalo Bayou.” Save Buffalo Bayou | A Ribbon of Life Through the Concrete of Houston, Accessed 29 Oct. 2021.

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