Thursday, October 31, 2013

Baytown Nov 2nd Nurture Nature Festival!

 Starting at 10 am!
Friends of Brazoria Refuges “Butterfly Encounter”
Challenger Seven Learning Center
Jesse Jones Park and Nature Center
Texas Crawdads
Texas Snakes and More
Friends of Cedar Bayou
Houston Geocaching
Friends of Anahuac Refuge
John C. Freeman Weather Museum
Texans Together (San Jacinto River Coalition)
Texas Parks and Wildlife Angler Education
Texas Parks and Wildlife Archery
The Big Buzz Theory
Texas Kayak Fishermen
Texas Marine Mammal Stranding Network
Artist Boat
Texas A&M University at Galveston Sea Camp (Whoopp!!)
… and of course, the Eddie V. Gray Wetlands Education Center

Activities will include:

Young Audiences Nature Screenprinting
Marine Mural Painting (for the kids to paint)
Watering Hole Golf
Coastal Dinosaur Dig
Face Painting
Rock Wall
Huge Alligator Inflatable
Caterpillar Inflatable for the little ones
Obstacle Course
Prairie Seed Cups
Feather Find Bird I.D.
Catfish Fishing Pond
TPWD Take Me Fishing Trailer
Backyard Bass

Creole Kitchen will be on hand with their delicious catfish, shrimp, hotdogs and funnel cakes.

Stage Shows shouldn’t be missed either…

10:00 Texas Snakes and More
11:00 Friends of Brazoria Refuges Birds of Prey
12:00 Crocodile Encounter
1:00 Big Buzz Theory
2:00 Texas Snakes and More
3:00 Crocodile Encounter

Did I mention it’s all FREE? Please feel free to share this with your friends…. The more the merrier at a festival!!

Hope to see you Saturday!!
Baytown Nature Center
6213 Bayway Drive

Friday, October 25, 2013

The Blue Heron Parkway Revisited

I wish to officially retract my many derisive statements about the Baker Road Extension.  I didn’t vote for it and I sure as heck fire didn’t see where anyone would profit from it except the land owners.  On top of that, I didn’t see the intensity of exponential growth this little tri-city oil town was going to suddenly experience.
The Blue Heron Parkway/Baker Road Extension

Well, to be honest, I suspected we were going to see major growth.  Anyone traveling the Fred Hartman bridge from the Baytown/La Porte Tunnel days knows the amount of vehicles going over the bridge has went from, “Boy, this sure is a lot of bridge for this few cars,” to “Mine Gott!  Where is the cow-catcher I ordered for the front of my pick-em-up truck?”

Living directly behind the expansion, I’ve taken a very personal interest in what is now named, the Blue Heron Parkway - a cool sounding water-loving bird name and very fitting for our multiple bay town.  My interest has been serious enough to get the skinny from the workers, engineers, city officials, and our mayor as I ride my bicycle up and down it.

Nick Woolery, Asst to the City Manager, has been a plethora of information.  Many believe the project is stalled and hearing the machinery every day, I know it’s not.  “The project is on track and we are anticipating the project to be completed by the beginning of March.  The reason you haven’t seen much activity on the project near North Main is because of work being done near the pipeline that runs just east of North Main.  Once this work is complete and traffic signal improvements at North Main and Blue Heron Parkway (BHP) are done, you will start seeing more progress from N. Main.”

There are three detention ponds being built.  Pond A is north of the extension and behind a N. Main storage facility.  It will be visible from the extension.  Pond C is on the curve on Hartman Drive and these two are to handle the current drainage needs.  “Once the project is completed, these ponds will be conveyed to the Harris County Flood Control District and they will be responsible for maintenance. “

Behind my house is a giant retention/detention pond.  “The larger detention pond on the east side of the project (Pond B) is to handle drainage needs from future development along BHP.  You are correct that it will drain into Cary Bayou.”
Detention/Retention Pond B
“North of Detention Pond B is additional detention area that will be used for recreational purposes.  As of now, it’s planned for future recreational purposes like softball and baseball practice fields and a
small parking area, but this is not currently funded.  We will construct these amenities at a later date.  We have received donations to plant new trees in this area, however.  Once the construction is complete, we will proceed with planting new trees in this detention area.”

“Along BHP will be 5-foot sidewalks on the north side of the road and 10-foot sidewalks on the south side of the road.  The larger sidewalk is suitable for walking and biking.  As you mentioned, there is also an 8-foot sidewalk that will run from the intersection of Blue Heron Parkway and Barkuloo road, down to the pipeline easement and over to Detention Pond B, passing through Barkuloo Park on the way.”

When I asked about a walking trail around the pond, he told me:  “There are plans to extend the trail around the new Detention Pond B in the future, but it’s not part of this project.  As funds become available, we’ll construct a trail around the detention area and build the recreational amenities.  The same goes for extending the sidewalk across Sjolander Road and the railroad tracks to Jenkins Park.  We certainly have future plans to make this happen, but it’s not a part of this road construction project.”
Crockett Elementary Expansion
In response to the Crockett Elementary roadwork, he replied: “…this is a separate project, but it’s being done in connection with the opening of BHP.  The school is re-configuring their driveway to accommodate more vehicles and help keep the vehicles that are waiting off the public streets.”  They will also put up a heavy-duty fence along the parkway to protect the children.

“As for the medians in the project.  Our Parks and Recreation staff designed the medians for Blue Heron Parkway.  They used similar design standards as you see throughout Baytown (see Baker Road, N. Alexander, etc.).  The project you see on North Main, north of I-10, is a county project.”
Giant mound of dirt belongs to Angel Brothers
 The giant mound of dirt at the end of the airport runway has caused much speculation.  “The dirt from the project will belong to the contractor, Angel Brothers.  I don’t know what their plans are for the dirt, but that’s not something the City is involved with.”

“You asked about annexation in the area.  There are no immediate plans to annex the general area into the City.  As is the usual practice, annexation will happen as development occurs and is generally limited to the area developed.  Sometimes it is necessary to annex across undeveloped property to reach a new development.  As is the case with all annexations, when they are proposed there will be plenty of notice and opportunity given to residents to provide comment throughout the process.”
 Finally, I addressed the rumor that once the BH Pkwy is finished, the airport runway will be lengthened:  “In regards to East Cedar Bayou Lynchburg being closed to lengthen the airport runway, this is not true.  East Cedar Bayou Lynchburg is a County road and is under the jurisdiction of Harris County.  However, there are no plans to close this road, even after Blue Heron Parkway opens and the City would be opposed to any such closure.”

Friday, October 18, 2013

Welcome to Baytown!

This is what many believe to be a typical Baytownian.

“A horrible black hole of a town. it sucks you in and it is almost impossible to break it's hold on you. It is full of worthless men and stupid women. The few good people are always trying to get out. AKA Dirty Bay   God I can't wait to get out of Baytown.”

On more than one occasion, it’s been pointed out to me that I obsess over city parks, hiking and biking trails, and over-concentrating on making Baytown friendlier to joggers and people who enjoy riding a bicycle on our road’s shoulders.  One current councilman told me one time that’s all I need to worry about and he would worry about everything else.  He scored zero points with me for that self-righteous smug and flippant remark.

Although I admit he was partially true and I say partially because frankly, there’s hardly a shoulder on any of our side roads.  Riding a bicycle around Baytown is akin to playing in the street – not a smart thing to do at all.  Forget that on any given weekend around the state, thousands of educated and hard-working Texans are competing in foot and bike races, or training for the MS-150, so when I read Chris Presley and Scott Sheley’s stance on the “most viable source of future revenue for the city” in the Baytown Sun, Tuesday, I took a keen interest.

And a little alarm sounded.

Presley went first with this: “We need to stop declining property values. Property values do not appreciate in Baytown like in most other communities. In fact, values have been trending downward in District 2 in recent years. If we can find ways to better stabilize our older neighborhoods and better stabilize those property values, in tandem with being more fiscally responsible with taxpayer’s dollars, we could eventually roll back the tax rate.”

“These people are known to be generally hard-working, if somewhat unsophisticated. Many of these people could be called hillbillies or swampers. Trailer trash is commonly seen in and around the Baytown area. Sometimes these people are referred to as "refinery trash."
Sometimes these people are referred to as "refinery trash."
Mr. Presley is in line with what I believe.  Not only do we need to stop the downward slide, we need to encourage high end house-building by hook or crook.  It’s been a pet peeve of mine for some time that many who speak about supporting this town, live in Sommerwood, Atascocita, or Jersey Village – anywhere but the Dirty Bay – a term I resent by the way. 

Sheley’s reply sounded okay, but did not make provision for expanding amenities, namely fixing up “what we already got.”  Now I like Scott.  I think he’s a great guy and to my knowledge, I haven’t met Chris and what I am saying is simple.  If we want Baytown to grow, we have to bring it all up at the same time and not just push business expansion.

Sure, Pirate’s Bay is a money maker.  I’ve never been there, but folks seem to like it and I have no problem supporting Mr. Sheley on his idea to promote it.  I like the idea of the Industrial complex kicking in their share also, but if either of these fellows were in my district and they said we’re going to three-lane the heavily traveled McKinney Road and add sidewalks or connect all of our parks with a hike bike trail (or die trying to get funding), I would poke a hole in their ballot in a heartbeat.

“A crappy city East of Houston that has absolutely nothing to do or see except for a mediocre mall in which half of the stores are either closed or run by ######”.

I’ve got my feelers out and have been communicating with Dustin Schubert and John Dupois about the future of Jenkins Park and the Blue Heron Parkway and as soon as something concrete – no pun intended, becomes available, they are going to help me bring it to this column.

Baytown is in serious need of a certified 3.1 mile (5K) loop so runners can train for races.  A 6.2 mile (10K) trail  would be better.  Recently, my bride and I have been over off Beltway 8 and highway 90 to the Gene Green Beltway 8 Park, which is a well kept secret.  It’s basically two detainment ponds separated by a forest.  The forest is a giant dog park with a hiking trail snaking through it and around the 250 acres is a wide cement sidewalk measuring 2 miles per circuit.
A small part of the Gene Green Beltway 8 Park
Inside, the environmentally-friendly park’s most popular features are a zip-line, an extensive exercise area, a kiddie spray park, tennis and basketball courts, a BMX freestyle course, dog runs, paved trails, an amphitheater and well-equipped skate park.  It also has a first class restroom, something we can’t have at Walter Jenkins park due to recurring vandalism.  We have a portacan.

“Baytown, the ultimate low of existence.”

Am I saying that Channelview Texas has a better park than the entire city of Baytown?  Yes, I am and it saddens me.  No, it embarrasses me.  We have been in this heavily used park a number of times and always there are men, women, and children of all ethnicities exercising in a safe environment.

Again, I am not knocking our Park’s super – I think he does a great job.  I can’t go into one of our parks without seeing maintenance crews doing the place right.  What puzzles me is how can these other areas I visit have what we have and seemingly so much more?  I’ve been to some retention/detention ponds that have fountains, bridges, benches and all kinds of other amenities and I want it for Baytown.

Pond B of the Baker Road Extension - Future Retention pond.
Our Park engineer Dustin Schubert replied to my questions about expansion in an email, knowing full well I will quote him verbatim.  On the Jenkins park connector it is high on our list to make that connection, however funds are not available in the near future On the retention basin we have not put a plan together as to what amenities it will have.”

City Council.  Find the funding.  Make Baytown a place where proud Baytownians who have 6 figure incomes want to raise their families, spend their money, and jog, ride their bikes, and support this town.

Quotes, compliments of

Friday, October 11, 2013

Corporal punishment consent form in schools

Paddling children by school officials -are you for it or against it? In other words, should school teachers be allowed to paddle your child when they act up and would you sign a form?    I asked this question to friends, school teachers, police officers, city employees, and family. Currently GCCISD does not paddle children for any reason.

The officially statement from GCCISD is as follows: “Statement from Dr. Cavazos: At the July 22 regular meeting of the Goose Creek CISD Board of Trustees, Board members approved the Parent/Student Handbook containing the Student Code of Conduct for the 2013-2014 school year to reflect revisions, including the elimination of the utilization of corporal punishment in Goose Creek CISD. Susan Passmore  Goose Creek CISD Publications Coordinator 281.420.4863”

Bert Marshall: I am pro-corporal punishment and believe the elimination of it from our schools will fuel unruly behavior amongst some of our students.

J. Dykehouse: Heck yes, and then I would get that hiney when they got home!!!!

R. Cabaniss: Nope I don't want them paddling my child.

C. Lopez: Yes, I would allow this.

D. Elliott: Yes.

V. Marcott: I did sign the forms, never had a problem , but I'm old school. I thought they abolished that in the school the last couple of years, I may be wrong.

D. Johanningsmeier: Yes, it worked before everyone became so sensitive, and look what its brought us in our current crop of adults. Mom to son: Tommy if you don't behave I'll not stop at McDonald's. Back in my prehistoric times, being grounded meant no outdoor play time, no TV (we only had one), and no fun activities. Then there was my dad to deal with.  You just learned quickly to stay out of trouble.

T. Wheeler: No! Schools don't use the best judgment when they discipline!

S. Geocacher:  Nope. I wouldn't sign one. There is no accurate way to meter the amount of force used from teacher to teacher. I will not allow a government employee to hit my kid. No sir.  There were no consent forms when I was a kid and I was unjustly paddled many times by a several sadistic teachers who took any opportunity to give a paddling no matter how small the infraction. My kid isn't going to have that experience. Discipline starts at home.

B. R. Pugh: Yes

P. R. Jett:  No. I reserve that punishment for us. I don't trust a stranger to beat my children. That has absolutely NOTHING to do with whether or not WE spank them. I'm not into absolving myself of parental duties by shifting that responsibility to a school administrator or teacher. Especially not when you hear so many stories of teachers having inappropriate relationships with students. Obviously not all of them have the best judgment or self control. I'm far more in favor of making parents responsible for their children. Make the parents financially responsible for their minor children and you see a lot less parenting failures.

Bruno  Marshall: I DID sign a form
K. Wade: I sign it every year and they still don't use it.

S. Liles: Yes. Schools are just asking consent to continue your responsibility that starts at home. You understand home fails all the time. The best children are the trouble magnets of all time. In the 60's it was normal for three swats with a paddle with holes in it.

A. Gaitorbate: I got paddled a lot. By the time I got into Jr. High it was my choice of punishment. It was my way of showing them they couldn't hurt me no matter how hard they hit me.

A. Barbee: I begged the principal of my daughter's elementary school, Alamo, to spank her as needed. I told them word-for-word "Spank her as hard as you can. I don't care as long as you don't draw blood. Bruises and red marks are okay." They acted as if I had shot their dog or something. I told them "If you don't spank her, she won't mind for you. And since I won't be there to make her behave for you, you gotta make her behave for you."

R. Fitts:  Yes; my Dad said if you get in trouble in school you will also be in trouble at home...worse paddling I got was in Alabama from elementary old woman principal, she bruised the heck of me and my parents went to school about that... so some in school system may not be the ones to issue the paddling... In other schools the coach handled the paddling .. and yes I got it at home... but most of the time I was a good student

S. Garcia:  Yes.  I've signed the form every single year for it.
Teacher's aren't allowed to hit the kids. They have to go to the office where the assistant principal or an administrator would be the one to do it. Well that's how it has been since my son has been in school (he is 15 now) society is too sensitive. And it's why we are were we are. It's a shame.

E. Caldwell: I paddled my kids when needed and it didn’t take to many swats to make the point with them....both my kids are a credit to me....I have always said "what you do is a direct reflection on me"...."I know that I have raised you right and you are going to show the world that i have"! I never signed yes on the paper from school....they are MY kids.

T. Cormier: School principals should. I also believe that parent should have to come get their children if they do not want them paddled. I also want a camera in my classroom so that when momma and daddy say," My baby said you are the problem. They said they didn't do anything. You are picking on my baby." I can then push rewind and say," Let's see your little angel in action as he completely disrupts my classroom and impedes the learning of others. Which, by the way, I can be held accountable for on the STAAR." Cameras protect the teacher and the student.  I've been hit, kicked, and spit on. There is no accountability for the students these days. My husband is urging me to switch careers.

J. and D. Hewett-Staner: I don't think it is wrong but just not for us.

D. Smith: Nothing like numb butt cheeks to sit on the rest of the day....and look, I turned out ok. Seriously, ALL of my swats I got because of the 'code of silence'...if nobody told on the guy who really DID it, EVERYBODY got one.

A. Tallant: BBISD offers it and I haves signed off for them to be popped but I have to be called first before it happens! Colton has received 2 pops over his 6 yrs at BBHSD !
I have to be notified beforehand. Thank God I haven't had that problem yet.

B. Prewitt: Worked for me, why not. As a child there is a thin line between fear and respect.

K. Winkelmann: I'm for it! There would be a stipulation though that I be called, this way they get it twice! I only got pops twice in school and got them twice at home once the call was made! But since this has been taken out of school there has been nothing but problems!

W. Hickman: Absolutely.

N. Rice:  No.

J. Gipson:  Pro paddling. It worked on me

P.Gramling: It worked when I was in school, so why not now. I am totally for it as long as they don't abuse it...pun intended. What they should be concentrating on are the bullying...cyber and physical.  What they should be concentrating on are the bullying...cyber and physical.

M. Abernathy-Fowler: I think the old fashion paddling idea of a ruler across the palm in front of students should be allowed. I received that from Coach Richardon in the 12th grade! I almost made it through without a record! LOL Of course sadly the generations in schools today come from broken homes, neglect or abuse. A teacher facing an older student and be so close would need to be on guard for instilled anger to lash back at them. I resigned the education field in 1996 and could see what was beginning to transpire before I ended that career.

T. Harvey-Jones: Would sign and have signed.

J. Connaly Jr: All for it, with rules of course. Bert, I was never a "teacher". I've had classrooms full of students though. After my 1st day of teaching, my thoughts were that if I ever see a former teacher I'd apologize profusely. I was fortunate enough to apologize to my high school AG teacher and my junior high art teacher. The school districts need to grow some and enforce the rules they already have. Teachers being assaulted by little kids is easily fixed. Sorry, your kid can't come to our schools. The police in the schools should be for security, not as enforcers. The administrators use them as muscle. Can we be anymore ridiculous?

L. Wong: My mother used chopsticks and my dad used his belt. I was a model student so never got into much trouble. I would think that paddling is reactive rather than being proactive with trying to motive kids in school. Maybe we need volunteer mentors.

M. Marshall:  Yes, it worked fine when I was a kid. That is when I wasn't being det.

C. Corbello: I used to say NO, till I had a problem child that would go to school giving the teachers' hell saying YOU CAN'T TOUCH ME,, lol,, so I told them to whoop his A** if he misbehaves,,, he minded after that,, haha

S. Melton: I was paddled often in elementary school (I know, shocker!) usually for very minor infractions but I don't really remember getting in trouble at home so I guess the school paddlings were enough for me. I find that now, the kids who really NEED the pops have the parents who won't allow the schools to give them and the parents who allow the school to give pops are already doing a good job of taking care of business at home before it comes to school punishment.

D. Thornton: I worked off and on adolescent psyche units and most of the brats we got were undisciplined little monsters with "ADD" or "oppositional disorders" ie; we don't discipline of pay any attention to them at home. You have limited success with these kids because they know that they can whine to their parents and things will be the same when they get home. Most of the so called parents are in total denial or are too afraid that they won't be their kids' "friend" anymore.  Oh, and the parents would actually have to give up time on their favorite hobbies, clubs and activities to actually spend time with their kids and parent. God forbid!   Our superintendent kept a paddle hanging in plain sight in his office. Was enough to keep us all in line.

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Geocaching, critters, and me

For those who know me, it is no secret I often engage in a rapidly evolving hi-tech game called geocaching.  For those who don’t know, or are unfamiliar with the game, geocaching translates as the recreational activity of hunting for and finding a hidden container with a logbook by means of GPS coordinates posted on a website.
In other words, a geocacher hides a container somewhere and submits the coordinates to and if it satisfies all the requirements, the geocache, or simply put, the cache publishes and to those of us who are premium members, sends out an email or text to let us know a new geocache is available.  This often sets off a competition to be the first to find (FTF) and sign the logbook inside the cache, thus proving the hunter actually was there.
 The game is addicting in the extreme.
As of today, I am ranked 45th in the southeast Texas (SETX) region, which encompasses a number of million people, with 3782 geocaches found and logged.  In addition, I have hidden and maintain 219 geocaches for other geocache hunters to find.  This second number boosts me very high nationally, as most seasoned geocachers do no hide or maintain nearly this many.
To put this game in perspective, there are currently 2,232,627 active geocaches and over 6 million geocachers worldwide.  You may have a geocache hidden within a block or two of where you live.
The game is played with an App on a Smartphone, especially by “newbies”, but most serious “cachers” use a dedicated Global Positioning Satellite receiver, or GPSr to find and hide their caches.  Non-players are affectionately known as “muggles”, a term borrowed from the Harry Potter series.  Although not nerd and geek inclusive, the game tends to attract people involved in academics, technical crafts, and computer vocations.  It is family safe and many seniors engage in finding geocaches for their hobby of choice and to get exercise.
Many geocache containers are hidden in city parks, along bike trails, inside cemeteries, and other urban settings – but many are hidden in the woods and places no sane person would venture and thus the title of today’s column.
Most of us perpetually have thorn and briar scratches on our arms and legs.  Texas, particularly our part of Texas has a wide variety of plants that grab and puncture every part of your body.  If you haven’t experienced this painful incident, imagine wading through six feet of rose bushes for fifty yards.
Along the way, you may, or may not encounter one or more venomous snakes, banana spiders crawling across your arm and back, clouds of hungry salt grass mosquitoes (mossies), chiggers, and the dreaded Lonestar tick.  I’ve had six ticks on me this year alone and after a single outing north of Beaumont; I had over 50 chiggers on my ankles.  One chigger or redbug bite equates to 7 to 14 days of intense itching.
Now all of these potential scary critters are not what I fear and I will walk through the snakiest looking terrain we have and often do, while wearing shorts.  What I fear is what geocachers encounter in urban settings – the black widow spider.  I’ve came across seven this year alone and on two occasions the spider was sitting on top of the geocache container in a parking lot location.  I do not suffer them to live, unlike the venomous snakes I encounter - I simply walk away from them.
Have you ever heard a banana spider bark?  I didn’t know it was possible until about two months ago and when I breeched the subject to the Baytown Nature Center’s naturalist Crissy Butcher and biologist Sarah Graham, both were skeptical and declared they would have to hear it to believe it.
This particular incident occurred a bit south of Baytown in an abandoned “garage” in some very over-grown woods.  I walked up on a huge Golden silk orb-weaver spider in a web about 5 feet off the ground, but was so caught up in looking for the geocache that I didn’t see it until I all but bumped it with my elbow.  It “barked” at me and shook its web.  I stepped back not believing my ears, so I moved my naked elbow closer to it and once again, it made the noise and shook the web.  For the third time, I moved my elbow in close and yes, once more it jerked and emitted what I can only describe as a tiny barking noise.
Most of us never encounter the variety of critters I mention in this column, even though they exist all around us, but if you become a geocacher, you can pretty much expect to see them often.  On November 2nd, I will be hosting a free geocaching 101 event booth and workshop at the Baytown Nature Center’s Nurture Nature Festival.  I’ll be at the raised pavilion in back and the class starts at 0800 sharp.

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