Sheldon Lake is a reminder of the original ecosystem Houston was built upon — brackish water, swamps and wetlands, now all segmented by urban development. The lake is a body of water overgrown with lilies and framed with bald cypress trees, aflame in color in late autumn or eerily bare throughout the winter like sentinels from another era.
From the top of the 82-foot John Jacob Observation Tower (named after former Anheuser-Busch executive John Jacob), a great panorama of the lake opens up with the skyline of Houston appearing like a snow-globe city some 15 miles away to the west.
Cormorants glide over the water and settle on a cypress tree, their croaks the only sound in the air, apart from the gentle swishing of the wind on a November afternoon.
Farther south, the San Jacinto Monument peaks up behind a stretch of forest. The view offers perspective of the contrast between wilderness and civilization and how the borders aren’t clearly defined.
Sheldon Lake State Park itself is a mosaic of man-made lakes and restored wetlands. The outcome is a recreational area for fishing, boating and regenerating for man and beast.
Surrounding the tower is a stretch of restored prairie grassland bordering a forest that is home to an array of rodents and singing birds. Cardinals catch the eye as they jump from tree to tree like red ping-pong balls.
Observation platforms were built to oversee different ponds, the steel used in their construction recycled from oil-drilling equipment. The green lily leaves catch some raindrops, while the wilted plants spiral over the water like ballet dancers in Victorian costumes.
One of the biggest problems the lake is facing is the invasion of nonnative aquatic plants. The foreign elements were most likely introduced by people emptying their aquariums or were attached to the hulls of boats that had previously been on other infested water-bodies. Foreign plants have few enemies and spread rapidly, blocking sunlight from entering the water and offsetting the natural balance.
Part of Sheldon Lake State Park is a nature education center with man-made ponds that help explain wetland ecology and life-cycles. Catch-and-release fishing is offered together with nature talks given by the on-site staff of rangers. Appointments for groups can be made.
As in most state parks, opportunities for volunteer work are abundant. Please inquire with the staff.
Sheldon Lake State Park
15315 Beaumont Highway (Business 90)
The park is open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. with weekend evenings extended to 7 p.m. from April to October.