Replanting the Flood Zone in Houston


SCA Harvey Recovery Volunteers Reforest Sims Bayou in Houston

When Hurricane Harvey swept through Houston, flood waters rose from Sims Bayou to overflow Milby Park — eroding banks, washing out trails and bike paths, and drowning the young forest growing along the waterfront.

“When I first saw the park after Harvey,” said one SCA alum, “the seedlings our crew planted were gone. I saw white patches in the trees that looked like birds. But actually it was plastic bags and trash left behind by the flood — caught ten or twenty feet up in the trees.”

Enter SCA’s Harvey Recovery Crew. The team of seven young conservationists set out to clear storm debris, replant the banks of the bayous, and bring back #HoustonStrong. 

Part of the crew’s mandate is to mobilize local communities to help champion the recovery effort. On a brisk Saturday morning, in partnership with Houston Parks & Recreation and with support from American Express and Southwest Airlines, SCA welcomed dozens of volunteers from the local community to participate in a mass tree planting at Milby Park.
Volunteers from Exelon Constellation, Southwest Airlines, University of St. Thomas Houston, Latitudes Environmental, the Trust for Public Land, and Houston Parks joined SCA alumni, staff, and crew members at the Milby Park Community Center, overlooking the restoration area and the bayou. Guided by members of SCA’s Harvey Recovery Crew, volunteers set out to plant 200 new trees along the banks of the bayou.
“These trees will do more than just make this area pretty,” SCA Apprentice Crew Leader Ian Shelton explained to volunteers. “Riparian restoration — restoring the banks along bodies of water like Sims Bayou — helps to prevent erosion and keep the water clean. The roots of these trees will help hold the soil together when the next storm comes — or even on rainy days like today.” Ian, an Atmospheric Sciences major and avid stormchaser, held out his hand to test the raindrops and added, “Yeah, a good moderate-to-high chance of rain today!”
Rain or no rain, volunteers came well prepared. Tessie Clark, heading up a group of employee volunteers from SCA’s corporate partner Exelon, came ready to work in striped galoshes. “I saw the forecast and I told my son, ‘Let’s get out our boots!'” she said. “Whatever the weather, we’re going out to help!”
Southwest Airlines — the official airline of SCA — was also represented among the partners helping in the effort. Former Southwest employee Denise Heraty was involved in SCA projects during her time on staff at Southwest — “and now that I’m retired,” she said, “I still love having the chance to come out whenever I can to help out the projects Southwest sponsors.”

By the end of the morning, SCA volunteers had planted 200 new trees along Sims Bayou, and extricated hundreds of pounds of storm debris left behind in trees and brush along the waterfront. And with more events to come, including additional tree plantings, SCA is just getting started. The SCA Harvey Recovery Crew will continue to mobilize SCA alumni, partners, and community members to ensure that the bayous of Houston stay resilient.

Nathalie Costello, a veteran alum of five SCA crews, is looking forward to more SCA events in Houston. “I was a math major and I work at an engineering firm now,” she said, “but I had an open weekend and said, ‘I’ll go plant some trees!’ This kind of thing helps me be a stable person. It keeps me whole.”

As projects mounted and improvements grew, the SCA program earned an Environmental Hero Award from the Public Lands Alliance.

Special thanks to the HOUSTON DEPARTMENT OF PARKS AND RECREATION (HPARD), the TEXAS COMMISSION ON ENVIRONOMENTAL QUALITY (TCEQ), and EPA for their continued partnership with SCA, and to AMERICAN EXPRESS and SOUTHWEST AIRLINES for supporting SCA’s Harvey Recovery events.
Student Conservation Association