Along Galveston’s West Bay are canal communities made up of long rows of houses built along man-made canals.
They’re all similar except for one, where houses are found only along the edges of a large, uninterrupted swath of green: Lafitte’s Cove Nature Preserve.
This seemingly misplaced landscape is there because of a lawsuit brought by landowners and environmental groups against Mitchell Development Corp. and its 1974 plan to develop what is now known as Lafitte’s Cove.
As part of the eventual settlement, 32 untouched acres were set aside and the houses and canals were built around it.
This natural parcel of land was to be kept in perpetuity as a public place for the quiet enjoyment of nature.
In 1992, its management fell to the newly formed Lafitte’s Cove Nature Society. Its job has been to protect and maintain the area as a freshwater ecosystem.
Today, the land set aside decades ago still supports a freshwater swale and its surrounding ponds, shrub thickets, wooded forests and grasslands — all surrounded by two- and three-story houses.
Contained within the preserve is a respectable assemblage of freshwater biota, including whistling ducks, blue-winged teal, mockingbirds, white ibises, red-eared turtles, cattails, bulrushes, spike rushes and sedges.
Added to these are resident woodland species and transient bird populations that use woodlands during spring and fall migrations.
An elevated boardwalk begins at the parking lot, providing a close-up view of the freshwater swale. Tall bulrushes and cattails grow within arm’s reach, and water hyssop covers much of the mud surface below.
When the swale fills with rainwater, the critters that blossom in mud and water attract wading birds such as white ibis.
Beyond the boardwalk is a path to the gazebo, a place providing a view of one of the ponds. From here, a trail leads into the woods. Several water drips along the pathway fill pools with cool, clear water sure to attract both winged and non-winged visitors.
The wooded trail splits near its end, one trail exiting at Jibstay Court and the other at Binnicle Way. Stumbling out of the forest onto these house-lined streets startles, an instant reminder of the world forgotten for a time.
After walking back to the gazebo, the path straight ahead provides perhaps the best view of the freshwater swale.
This is a remnant of a wetland habitat that once stretched across much of the island’s length.
The trail meanders through grassy areas of the preserve before heading back to the parking lot. But before heading out, cross the roadway to view residents of the adjacent pond.
Lafitte’s Cove Nature Preserve is a unique gem among this West Bay subdivision. And setting aside a bit of nature is always a good thing, whether voluntary or required.