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Brazos River Trail opens on the Lower Brazos

The Brazos River in the upper and central basins has long been a popular destination for canoe trips, but paddlers may not know that there are plenty of opportunities to take to the water and explore the river’s lower reaches.

A 125-mile-long stretch of the Brazos, ending at its mouth at the Gulf of Mexico, is being developed and preserved as a natural jewel and recreational destination. Dubbed the Brazos River Trail, the effort is a project by Houston Wilderness, an alliance of government, environmental and business groups that are working to preserve natural areas around the Gulf Coast city.

In October, the Brazos River Authority Board of Directors authorized General Manager/ CEO Phil Ford to sign a memorandum of understanding with Houston Wilderness. Under the agreement, the two groups will share information and cooperate on common goals, such as environmental education and responsible stewardship of natural resources.

The Brazos trail, the second project the Houston group has undertaken, was unveiled in February. So far, there are six canoe access points from the Gulf up through Fort Bend County. However, at least eight more are planned, with a goal of one every 12 miles, said the organization's President/CEO, Rosie Zamora.

The group will begin work in 2010 on extending the river trail with a segment through Stephen F. Austin State Park. Eventually, they hope the project will reach inland to Washington-on-the-Brazos State Historic Site, where Texas declared its independence from Mexico.

The lower Brazos is generally calm, with no waterfalls or rapids, said Victoria Herrin, Houston Wilderness trails coordinator. It is fine for paddlers with basic skills, but is a big river and not necessarily the best place for beginners. Life jackets are a must, she said.

In recent months people have really been taking to the river’s southern stretch, Herrin said. One group of scouts recently paddled and camped along a 55-mile portion.

“We’ve had several trips where people came back with accounts of their trips and they are great,” Herrin said. “People are having lots of fun on the river.”

A veteran of canoe trips down the lower Brazos, Herrin said she is constantly struck by the river’s beauty. Because soil was brought to the area by a series of glaciers, on portions of the river you can see layers of black, red, gold and gray in places where the earth has been eroded away. Much of the banks are lined with lush greenery, she said.

The Brazos is teeming with wildlife. Natural areas near the Gulf are also good locations to spot a wide variety of migrating song birds that pass through Texas during their annual trip.

Herrin also said there are “gorgeous” sandbars along the lower Brazos, and from time to time artifacts of Native Americans can be found exposed there.

“One of the things I love so much about the Brazos River is the history,” she said. “Though it’s not always visible from the river, there are ruins there,” and you can learn a lot about the area’s history. Recently, a group has begun offering tours on a restored paddleboat in the area.

For more information about the Brazos River Trail project or to learn about the paddleboat excursions, go to the Web site, http://www.houstonwilderness.org, or call (713) 524-7330.

To check the river’s level and flow rate along any section go to the Brazos River Authority’s Web site, at http://www.brazos.org/USGSGaugingSystem.asp.