In July 1999, Brenda and I entered our next stage of life, in a new house overlooking the bay and marshes, and looking forward to a more flexible schedule, more time to travel etc.

Which we did. But the work ethic dies hard and it’s not easy to play all the time. We quickly became aware that Galveston Island pretty well depended on volunteers and philanthropy and that there were plenty of ways to add variety to retirement and keep the mind from getting too rusty.

There was no reason to “not have something to do” as our still Houston friends thought would be the case. Volunteers man City Council and committees, and are the muscle of the many non profits, like Galveston Historical Foundation that preserve Galveston’s character, like many Social service organizations that help those in need.

Super volunteer names can be found on multiple boards. The philanthropic foundations, created by successful founding families and later successful sons of the island, pump money into a city short on industry and revenue.

So it happened that I put a toe into the volunteer pool, first doing some strategic planning work for Hospice Care Team and some time with the local Red Cross Disaster services.

But what transformed retirement life on Galveston Island was a little book titled “The Wildlife of Galveston Island.” It re kindled in me and my wife all the joys of those long ago years when we lived in or close to and explored the English countryside.

We were back to nature. The author was Jim Stevenson and he relit our latent and mutual interest in bird life and the natural world and stimulated a brand new “hobby.”

A couple of years later, while Brenda was becoming a Master Naturalist, I was able to help a newly created Friends of Galveston Island State Park organization by coordinating a Birding committee and some Birding activities at the Park and later being a Board member.

After 4 years, I was term limited and I have come to understand that term limits are good, they force one to change and permit others to develop new ideas.

I was very much a West Ender. I lived there and volunteered there. But that Friends of Galveston Island State Park role led directly to my first real association with Galveston’s urban core activities and some of its leaders.

With the Mitchell family’s help, those who recognized the developing value of nature-tourism decided to create a Birding Festival in 2003, called FeatherFest and chaired by Lyda Ann Thomas.

The FeatherFest committee allowed Friends of Galveston Island State Park to offer and lead Birding by Kayak trips. A year or so later, this led to my chairing FeatherFest and its parent organization, Galveston Island Nature Tourism Council, until I was, yes, again Term limited.

It was hoped that the success of Galveston Island Nature Tourism Council’s eco tourism initiatives would foster support for preserving critical green space and for balance between development and conservation.

It has certainly helped. But it would definitely help this island maintain its broad appeal into the future, if it had a purposeful land funding and acquisition program so that the needs of all user interests and ecological concerns were satisfied and served. 

In 2005 the National Park Service agreed to give the City (after a yeoman effort by Jackie Cole) full title to 232 acres of (previously leased U.S. Coast Guard) land located at the far (North East) end of Galveston Island, by the south jetty.

The transfer mandated a plan be created for its passive use. In early 2007 Mayor Lyda Ann Thomas created a Mayors EEL Committee (including Galveston Island Nature Tourism Council) with the purpose of raising the money for a Master Plan focused on natural recreation and nature preservation, for the entire 686 acres owned by the City.

The land is both wild and natural but publicly usable. It is a world class birding location and a very popular place for kayakers, families, fisherman and crabbers.

The funds for the plan were raised privately by Galveston Island Nature Tourism Council, supplemented by the City and a Master Plan was developed, became part of the City’s Ike Recovery Committee process and presented to Council in February 2011.

Without fully appreciating it at the time, the East End Lagoon Eco-Tourism project started for me a fascination with the far northeast end of the island.

On the north side of Seawall Boulevard is a dredge spoil site but what are those half covered structures? How did the long lagoon get created south of the seawall?

What was this part of the seawall intended to protect. Hopefully the next few week’s guest columns will be of interest to many.

Mort Voller lives in Galveston and in several capacities has advocated for Galveston’s Natural Heritage. Kirk Clark is a process safety consultant and local historian with a passion for all things Galveston history.

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