During the mid-1960s a group of homeowners in Houston’s Memorial subdivision formed the Buffalo Bayou Preservation Association (BBPA) to protect the natural beauty of their neighborhood bayou after they observed an area along the Bayou near Chimney Rock that was ravaged by fallen trees and bulldozed undergrowth. They soon learned that Harris County Flood Control District was re-routing Buffalo Bayou without public notification. Outraged by the condition of the bayou and the county’s failure to proffer public notification, Terry Hershey, a Memorial resident herself, joined BBPA and quickly became its most visible and energetic activist. Houston developer George Mitchell lived on Buffalo Bayou and was a founding member and a president of the organization. Hershey’s first acts involved community coalition building, but before long she traveled to Washington, D.C. to testify before the House Appropriations Sub-Committee by invitation of young Congressman George H.W. Bush. Her testimony led to a halt of the work on Buffalo Bayou and a request by Congressman Bush that the project be re-studied by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Although BBPA began as a NIMBY (not in my backyard) organization, by 1969 members realized that their concerns for Buffalo Bayou applied to all of Houston and Harris County’s watersheds, so the organization expanded its scope and amended its name and became Bayou Preservation Association (BPA). As a NIABY (not in anybody’s back yard) group, BPA emerged as an organization devoted to watershed oversight and information dissemination. Promoting community education and participation in watershed management decisions was a major focus of BPA activities. During the 1970s, BPA orchestrated the formation of the Harris County Flood Control Citizens’ Advisory Task Force, a community collaboration of engineers, developers, and interested citizens, and BPA sponsored an herculean effort to propel Houston and Harris County into the federal flood insurance program in 1973.
Terry Hershey’s role in a landmark citizens’ protest against structural intervention along Buffalo Bayou was fortuitous for Houston’s environmental community. Born in Fort Worth, Hershey moved to Houston in the 1950s to marry Jake Hershey, an independent business man, sailor, and philanthropist. When Terry Hershey recognized the danger to her neighborhood and understood the broader scope of environmental problems in Houston, she remembered her mother’s lessons on the responsibilities of women to civic activism and embarked on a personal mission to eradicate Houston’s problems. Hershey was and remains a central figure in Houston’s environmental activism. She studied the problems, sought input from other communities, organized groups, created coalitions, headed protests, and offered financial support to myriad efforts directed toward improvement of quality of life problems in Houston. Her first environmental campaign was successful because she, and the community activists she aroused, stepped into uncharted territory by directly challenging local government in Harris County and indirectly by taking their argument to Washington. George Bush gambled considerable local political capital to suggest a re-study of the Buffalo Bayou project, but his courage heartened local activists as much as it antagonized local government.
The fight to save Buffalo Bayou was significant on several fronts. First, it represented a coordinated demand from citizens’ groups to be informed of and included in government projects. Second, it uncovered a small subterranean network of disparate groups and individuals in Houston who responded when Terry Hershey organized a coalition. Last, it illustrated the force and inspiration of talented individuals who could coordinate groups into powerful, if temporary, coalitions. Sarah Emmott (collection housed in Houston History Archives), along with many other volunteers, lent her voice, energy, and money to the “Fight to Save Buffalo Bayou.” Inspired by a television news segment featuring Terry Hershey, Hana Ginzbarg (collection housed in Houston History Archives) came forward for the first time and offered her services. Ginzbarg joined the BBPA and set up a table in Memorial Park to collect 2,000 signatures supporting a re-study of Buffalo Bayou flood management plans, a foreshadowing of the incredible energy and tenacity that Ginzbarg would apply to the preservation of Armand Bayou. Activists who work to save Buffalo Bayou established Citizens’ Environmental Coalition (collection housed in Houston History Archives) and The Park People (collection housed in Houston History Archives), essentially founding Houston’s environmental community.