RoundupReads JSC, Armand Bayou celebrate 40 years of partnership in caring for our planet

JSC, Armand Bayou celebrate 40 years of partnership in caring for our planet

Like good neighbors everywhere, Johnson Space Center and the Armand Bayou Nature Center share more than a fence line.
Their long association nurtures one of the nation's most vibrant nature preserves in a major urban setting.
On a grander scale, the collaboration symbolizes the enduring link between the exploration of space and responsible stewardship of the Earth and its environment.
On Oct. 4, the nature center and its most enthusiastic supporters—representing the University of Houston-Clear Lake (UHCL) and local school districts, petrochemical industry, finance and banking, as well science and technology sectors—will honor JSC for its support throughout the preserve’s first 40 years at an annual gala entitled Mission to Marsh.
“No one knows better than our astronauts how precious the Earth is,” said Sandra Parker, an environmental specialist in JSC’s Center Operations Directorate and a member of the nature center’s board of trustees. That respect is reflected in the dynamic images of the Earth transmitted daily in the tweets of the astronauts living aboard the International Space Station.
The tradition pre-dates social media, however, reaching back to the famous Pale Blue Dot photographed by NASA’s Voyager 1 spacecraft from the fringes of the solar system on Feb. 14, 1990, and the Blue Marble and Earthrise images photographed from lunar orbit by the astronauts aboard Apollo 17 on Dec. 7, 1972, and Apollo 8 on Christmas Eve 1968.
Back on Earth, astronauts Rusty Schweickart, Bruce McCandless and Paul J. Weitz joined with the Sierra Club in 1971 to paddle Armand Bayou as part of a preservation campaign.
Started in 2011, an annual spring “Trash Bash” draws volunteers from JSC and the nature center, who comb their respective grounds for the upstream urban debris that makes its way into the Armand Bayou watershed.
Every summer, the nature center hosts “EcoCamp,” a collaboration started by JSC, UHCL and the Clear Creek Independent School District to offer youngsters hands-on wildlife learning experiences.
The preserve’s 2,500 acres bustle with nearly 400 species of native birds, butterflies, deer, bayou-dwelling alligators and snakes, as well as prairie marsh grasses, shrubs and forest. This bountiful wildlife dominated a much larger region that was hunted and fished by Native Americans until the late 19th century, then grazed by cattle that roamed vast ranchlands that occupied the area before JSC’s construction.
JSC manages another 1,100 acres of wildlife-friendly open space to the west.
“Maybe the tagline for our gala is plotting our mission for the future,” said Tom Kartrude, the nature center’s executive director. “We are celebrating our 40th anniversary, but we really have to look to the future. The nature center today is better than it was 40 years ago. There is a more robust biota. The species list is richer. We have seen the plant and wildlife recover because of the work we have done on-site and that our partners have done around us.” 
Two bison serve as reminders of enormous herds of the grazing animals that once depended on the native grasses and brush that still thrive on the nature center. Armand is home to one of but a handful of bald eagle’s nests in the region.
“We look across the street, across the fence lines and see a whole bunch of smart folks,” Kartrude said.  “A pool of smart folks is really important when you look to the future. You don’t know what the future will bring, so you want the smartest people thinking about it.”
The preserve takes its name from just such a person, Armand Yramategui, a passionate area conservationist and curator at the Burke Baker Planetarium. He was stirred by the 20th-century changes unfolding along the greater Texas Gulf Coast. The region that would one day bear his name was known as Middle Bayou and occupied by a small number of settlers and ranchers of European descent who farmed, raised cattle and maintained their land for the native deer, quail, peccary and prairie chickens.
By 1940, the former J. M. West Ranch, a prominent part of Middle Bayou, had been acquired by Humble Oil and Refining Co., now Exxon Mobil. In 1962, Humble established the Friendswood Development Co., a real estate subsidiary, to build housing and create what is now known as the Bayport Industrial District. That same year, NASA acquired nearly 1,700 acres of the former West Ranch for what was then known as the Manned Spacecraft Center. By 1967, construction of Bay Area Boulevard divided what is now the nature center, making Middle Bayou publicly accessible.
Yramategui rallied conservationists, potential donors and lawmakers at the local, state and federal levels, making it possible to establish a nature center—if the Harris County Commissioners Court would agree to create a county wide parks department. In early 1970, just before he was to appear before commissioners, Yramategui was killed in a highway holdup.
Hana Ginzbarg, a fellow Houston conservationist, took up the cause. The effort enabled Harris County, the city of Pasadena and a nonprofit to raise the money to acquire seven parcels for the nature center from Exxon with a matching federal grant.
Subsequently named for Yramategui, the Armand Bayou Nature Center was incorporated in 1974.

Mark Carreau
NASA Johnson Space Center
JSC and the Armand Bayou Nature Center have collaborated with "Trash Bash" events to clean up the environment in our area. Image Credit: Jeni Morrison
JSC and Armand Bayou Nature Center volunteers work to clean up our local ecosystem. Image Credit: Chrystal Banks