The lake was once a reservoir built to support war industries along the Houston Ship Channel. The associated educational center was once a fish hatchery. That partly explains how this unexpected oasis grew up amid what is largely a commercial area on Houston’s northeast side.
High levees surround Sheldon Lake. About 800 acres are open water; the other 400 are swamp and marshland and home to a variety of wading birds. There’s relatively little wandering space around the lake, which is bounded by busy roads on two sides.
The Environmental Learning Center down the road is another story. There are wooded trails and open grassland, all woven between about 28 former hatchery ponds that the park has cleverly let “go wild”. Each pond is like a room in a natural art gallery, some open water, some overgrown with grasses or lily pads, some with drowned trees. Birds, rabbits, turtles, frogs – and, of course, fish – make their home there. Overlooking the park is an observation tower so tall it should be staffed by air traffic controllers.
In addition to the woodland trails around the ponds, new trails on recovered prairie and wetlands recently opened to the public. The prairie trails are the culmination of an innovative project that has restored the landscape’s original contours and native prairie grasses.