Paradise Pond getting makeover



Contract workers and volunteers plant new native plants at the Joan and Scott Holt Paradise Pond on Thursday, March 22. Staff photo by Ron Farmer

Contract workers and volunteers plant new native plants at the Joan and Scott Holt Paradise Pond on Thursday, March 22. Staff photo by Ron Farmer

New efforts have begun to reinvigorate a favorite Port Aransas birding area that was devastated by Hurricane Harvey.

A first phase of new plantings began on Thursday, March 22, at Joan and Scott Holt Paradise Pond. At least two phases of plantings will take place, said Colleen Simpson, manager of the Port Aransas Nature Preserve, which includes the pond site.

“Planting went really well,” Simpson said. “I believe there were over 100 plants.”

Volunteer Jeff Zadra of Biwabik, Minn., does some planting at the Joan and Scott Holt Paradise Pond on Thursday, March 22. Staff photo by Ron Farmer

Volunteer Jeff Zadra of Biwabik, Minn., does some planting at the Joan and Scott Holt Paradise Pond on Thursday, March 22. Staff photo by Ron Farmer

A city contractor’s crew of five people and several volunteers did the planting at the pond, located behind San Juan Restaurant on Cut-off Road.

Hurricane Harvey, which struck on Aug. 25, filled the pond area with saltwater, killing 30-foot black willow trees. The hurricane also blew down fences, smothering plants.

Until recently, most of the remaining vegetation consisted of Brazilian pepper trees, an invasive and destructive species that the City of Port Aransas and volunteers have been trying to beat back for years.

While the fast-growing pepper trees provide cover for birds, and birds do eat pepper tree berries, the berries aren’t as nutritious as what’s provided by native plants, Simpson said.

Pepper trees tend to crowd out native plants and break up coastal prairies that some birds prefer as habitat.

In January, the city received a grant of $9,500 to remove the pepper trees and replant native trees and plants. The grant was awarded by the Texas Ornithological Society.

The pepper trees were cleared over an approximately two-week period ending March 12. Simpson said every single pepper tree was cut down, and the remains were treated with an herbicide to keep them from growing back. Plans are to keep a close watch over Paradise Pond from now on to make sure pepper trees don’t somehow re-germinate, despite efforts to eliminate them.

Ripping out the pepper trees left Paradise Pond pretty bare.

“It’s hard to look at right now,” Simpson said. “But (eliminating all of the pepper trees at once) will lead us to the fastest recovery of a natural habitat that we can get.”

The pepper trees were replaced by black willow, Montezuma cypress, cottonwood, coastal live oak, Texas kidneywood, button bush, American beauty berry, pigeon berry, chili pequin and others.

The new plants don’t fill the area the way the pepper trees did, but with proper care, they eventually will, Simpson said

“These natives will help restore a natural canopy and understory for migrating birds with nutritious fruits, seeds and insects to give them the energy they need to continue on their long journeys,” she said.

Other efforts

Paradise Pond also has had some other help since Harvey hit.

Working as volunteers, firefighters from the Cleburne, Abilene and Fort Worth areas repaired the boardwalk.

Palmilla Resort and Golf Club provided staff and equipment to pump the salt water out of the pond a number of times.

The Port Royal Ocean Resort and Conference Center paid its staff to remove debris and downed fences.

Folks from Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi replanted the pollinator garden near the parking area of the pond site.

A team from Texas A&M University-Kingsville helped rebuild the fences and build new raised flower beds. Port Aransas volunteers filled the beds with soil, mulch and native pollinator plants. Pollinator plants attract butterflies, hummingbirds and bees.

Background

A lot of pepper trees were removed from the Paradise Pond area in 2015. Some were taken out by a contractor for AEP, the electrical utility, which was trying to keep a utility line path clear.

Other pepper trees were cleared out by the developer of a subdivision that was being built on nearby Port Street.

An AEP spokesman said the utility didn’t go beyond its right-of-way, and the developer said everything his workers cleared was on his property, which lies right next to Paradise Pond.

The twin actions took place within just a few weeks of each other, leaving all of the plant life along the northwest side of the pond mowed to the ground. It shocked and angered some visitors who loved the thick tangle of vegetation that gave Paradise Pond the feel of a tranquil retreat.

Scott Holt, a longtime devoted birder and scientist for whom the pond partly was named, said the cutting was good because it removed a chunk of the invasive pepper trees, but it also was bad because pepper trees were better than nothing as far as bird habitat is concerned.

Owen Fitzsimmons, president of the Coastal Bend Audubon Society at the time, agreed with Holt.

“Basically, they took out the Brazilian pepper trees, mostly, and in the long run, it will be a really good thing,” Fitsimmons told the South Jetty in 2015. “It’s a highly invasive species. As bad as it looks now, in the end, it’s going to be a good thing.”

The pepper trees got started in a small corner of Paradise Pond in 2002, and then quickly spread to cover nearly 75 percent of the two-acre site, according to Simpson.

After the clearing took place, the city hired a contractor to replant native species and maintain them.

More than 300 plants (30 different species) were planted. It’s hard to tell what percentage of them survived Harvey, Simpson said.

How to help

Simpson said that anyone who’d like to do volunteer work at Paradise Pond should email her at csimpson@cityofportaransas.org.

Folks who’d like to donate money to efforts should make checks out to “City of Port Aransas,” with “nature preserve” in the memo line. Checks should be mailed to: City of Port Aransas, 710 W. Ave. A, Port Aransas, TX. 78373.

People also can donate online at: www.recreationporta.org

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