FLOAT YOUR BOAT

New pad­dling routes of­fer dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive on Hous­ton’s Buf­falo Bayou

Houston Chronicle - - STAR - By Mag­gie Gor­don

Bruce Bod­son is only steps away from the bumper-to-bumper racket of Allen Park­way. But stand­ing next to a bright or­ange kayak, the part-time tour guide is headed to­ward seren­ity — ready to pad­dle away for a couple of hours from the newly opened Lost Lake boat launch, where Bayou City Ad­ven­tures be­gan rent­ing out kayaks and ca­noes last month.

“We had a grand­mother and three grand­kids come in here the other day, and none of them had ever pad­dled be­fore,” Bod­son says on a re­cent af­ter­noon, be­fore trudg­ing down the short ramp from the visi­tors’ cen­ter at Lost Lake to the muddy bank of the bayou to launch his kayak. “They went down to Sabine Street and back with no prob­lem af­ter we gave them a lit­tle in­struc­tion on how to han­dle the boats.”

Al­though the com­pany has been offering Hous­to­ni­ans a chance to pad­dle the bayou since 2010, the new launch lets visi­tors put in closer to down­town. The 3-mile round trip — your choice of with or with­out a guide — from the new launch to the Sabine Street bridge and back will stretch to Allen’s Land­ing when con­struc­tion there wraps up early next year.

The short route is eas­ier for first-time pad­dlers to tackle and good prac­tice for Bayou City Ad­ven­tures’ most pop­u­lar route: the Hous­ton Sky­line Tour, a 7½-mile one-way trip that orig­i­nates at Wood­way Me­mo­rial Park and ends at Sabine Street, says owner Rico Tor­res. While that tour is open to be­gin­ners, the three-and-a-half hour

“You have to get over the idea that you’re go­ing to stay clean and dry be­cause it’s definitely a wa­ter sport.” Bruce Bod­son

course can take its toll on arms and shoul­ders.

Down on the wa­ter, Bod­son slides into the back­seat of an or­ange tan­dem kayak to lead a trip through the new route.

“You have to get over the idea that you’re go­ing to stay clean and dry be­cause it’s definitely a wa­ter sport,” says Bod­son, who likes spend­ing time on the wa­ter when he’s not work­ing as an en­vi­ron­men­tal lawyer.

The bayou’s wa­ter is cleaner than it once was, but it’s far from the blue one’s imag­i­na­tion might sum­mon at the thought of a kayak ad­ven­ture.

“Peo­ple get con­fused by the color. They think it’s brown be­cause the bayou is dirty, but in fact, it’s sed­i­ment that builds up,” says Anne Ol­son, pres­i­dent of the Buf­falo Bayou Part­ner­ship, the non­profit lead­ing the charge to re­vi­tal­ize the bayou.

With a typ­i­cal flow of about 100 cu­bic feet per sec­ond, the bayou is slow­mov­ing, which means muck tends to stick around for a while.

“There has been an im­prove­ment in Buf­falo Bayou’s wa­ter qual­ity over the years as Hous­ton has in­vested in bet­ter waste­water fa­cil­i­ties,” Ol­son con­tin­ues, not­ing that decades ago, the an­nual Buf­falo Bayou Re­gatta was not-so-af­fec­tion­ately known as the Reek­ing Re­gatta for the pun­gent wa­ter. Th­ese days, that nick­name has fallen away.

“The wa­ter’s definitely still not swimmable, but for ca­noe­ing and kayak­ing, it’s great,” she says.

In kayak­ing, you use a two-sided pad­dle, al­ter­nat­ing arms to dig the curved ends into the wa­ter. There’s likely to be at least a few splashes while you’re switch­ing sides over the course of 3 miles, so wear old clothes — and if you bring a phone or cam­era to snap pho­tos of the down­town views, stow it in a watertight bag.

There isn’t much to see for the first stretch of the new tour, other than run­ners and bik­ers mov­ing along the foot­paths above the bayou’s banks. Views open up af­ter pass­ing un­der the Waugh bridge about a quar­ter-mile into the jour­ney, where you will smell — but likely not see — the 300,000 bats that make their home in­side the tiny crevices be­low the bridge.

The next half-mile of­fers a couple of peeks at wildlife — a flock of baby ducks wad­dling along the bank, birds scout­ing for stray bats to con­sume. It’s quiet and peace­ful, with just a slight breeze and none of the hustle and bus­tle usu­ally seen in the na­tion’s fourth-largest city.

“When you start com­ing out from the Mon­trose bridge, that’s when you start get­ting really good views of the Hous­ton sky­line from the bayou,” Bod­son says.

The wa­ter­way winds a bit from there to the end of the route, duck­ing un­der

Me­mo­rial Drive twice as it curves up and back down, the sky­line tuck­ing away be­hind cor­ners in a game of hide-and-seek un­til it’s im­pos­si­ble to ig­nore at the Sabine Street bridge.

“It’s a new per­spec­tive on Hous­ton,” Bod­son said. “And it’s beau­ti­ful.”

mag­gie.gor­don@chron.com twit­ter.com/MagEGor­don

Eric Kayne

Bayou City Ad­ven­tures tour guide Bruce Bod­son checks out one of the new routes on Buf­falo Bayou, which orig­i­nates at the Lost Lake boat launch.

El­iz­a­beth Con­ley pho­tos / Hous­ton Chron­i­cle

The Hous­ton sky­line ap­pears in the dis­tance dur­ing a trip down Buf­falo Bayou with tour com­pany Bayou City Ad­ven­tures.

A tur­tle takes in some sun on the banks of Buf­falo Bayou.

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