Three environmental sites rank among most endangered in Texas

February 12th, 2009

Preservation Texas lists the ten Most Endangered Places again this year. In addition to historic buildings, including the Governor’s Mansion and the Secorro Mission Rectory in El Paso, three places on the list are significant for environmentalists and conservationists.

Hamiliton Pool: “Hamilton Pool Preserve is a natural feature in southwest Travis County upstream from the confluence of Hamilton Creek and the Pedernales River. The pool occurs where Hamilton Creek spills out over limestone outcroppings, creating a 50-foot waterfall that plunges into the head of a steep box canyon. The waterfall never completely dries up though it slows to a trickle in dry times.

“Hamilton Pool Preserve is suffering from its own popularity as a recreational destination as well as from minimal regulation and increased suburban development. In May 2007, Hamilton Pool and Hamilton Creek suffered major silt and erosion runoff during the construction of a residential subdivision upstream. The damage to Hamilton Pool, Davis Creek, Cripple Creek, Hamilton Creek and 10 unnamed tributaries in the surrounding area has been devastating.”

The Strand in Galveston: “Galveston Island is a city known for its wealth of nineteenth and twentieth-century architecture. The Strand/Mechanic Historic District is among the island’s most significant collection of architecture, with more than 45 buildings in 12 blocks of significant architectural merit. This district, whose buildings date to the 1850s, has stood resilient to the point of heroic defiance though economic and natural disasters.

“On September 13, 2008, Galveston Island took a direct hit from Hurricane Ike. The streets and buildings in the Strand/Mechanic District were inundated with seawater, oil and debris. The buildings were immersed in up to 13 feet of water, which obliterated interiors and swamped mechanical systems. High winds damaged roofs. Water stood in these structures for more than two days, seeping into irreparable historic fabrics. Galveston urgently needs and deserves a renaissance.”

Scenic Loop – Boerne Stage Corridor: “Located at the base of the Hill Country, Scenic Loop Road is a winding byway that was created as a scenic touring route for San Antonians in the 1920s. The Scenic Loop was originally 46.3 miles roundtrip from downtown San Antonio and was built to connect with the Boerne Stage Road. At that point, the Road turns north and continues as Boerne Stage Road to the Balcones Creek at the Kendall County Line
The history of the area spans several thousands of years. A drive along the route reveals evidence of prehistoric sites, nineteenth-century rock structures, historic ranches and farms, abundant wildlife habitat and the Old Spanish Trail.

“After nearly a century of sprawl, the remaining scenic and historic route is about a fifth of its original distance, totally about 10 miles. The residents fought the widening of the loop in 1985, and they continue to oppose adjacent development. However, as the site is outside of San Antonio’s jurisdiction, developers have few regulations and are free to clear-cut properties or dynamite hills. After nearly a century of sprawl, the remaining scenic and historic route is still very much in danger.”

That these sites of environmental importance are on the list is significant.

Truly, the protection and restoration of historic buildings and places is extremely important in order for Texans to have any connections with our past. But it strikes us at the League as uncommon for environmental sites – a threatened spring-fed pool, a downtown business district eviscerated by an environmental disaster of a magnitude still being assessed, and a roadway connecting a major city to the Hill Country – to receive such notice from historic preservationists.

Preservation Texas is right – these places are at risk and all need to be preserved. But especially, the three environmental ones are extremely timely and relevant. The message Preservation Texas seems to be sending is that it’s not just historical buildings where our priceless heritage can reside – but also the natural places and those impacted by natural disasters made worse by environmental degradation.
Each day, future generations lose a little bit more of their heritage because of unencumbered development, poor land use and neglect. Those who struggle to clean up the Texas environment generally — improving air quality, conserving water and generating clean power, for example — need these magnificent environmental sites as touchstones of our heritage.

The League applauds Preservation Texas for including environmental sites on its most endangered list.