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Group to Dedicate Estuary
Posted on: 6/23/2010

John M.O
John M.O'Quinn Interstate 45 Scenic Estuarial Corridor - Photo by Kevin M. Cox
Published June 23, 2010

John O’Quinn has been Scenic Galveston’s friend since Richard Kirkpatrick, vice chairman, and I returned from a Livable Communities Conference in 1992.

Our plan was on the drawing boards early 1993 with a nonprofit organizational plan for conservation protecting habitat along both sides of the Interstate 45 transportation corridor.

Pending destruction was creeping into the estuary by proliferating bait camps, landfills, levee wall containments, cabarets, convenience stores, dumping, billboards and other inappropriate business uses in the remaining natural, emergent, intertidal wetlands surrounding this magnificent scenic gateway to Galveston.

How many American cities today can celebrate an almost 3-mile traffic entrance through splendid marshes?

This natural estuary spreads from the West Galveston Bay shoreline across a major interstate to the railroad tracks on the east.

It provides safe public access and touchable wetlands with incredible views of some of the most beautiful marshes in Texas.

Galveston County has it all, yet splendid marshes in 1992 were being destroyed before the eyes of our fledgling conservation organization.

Scenic Galveston had a focused plan to save the corridor’s scenic quality before it looked like Airport Boulevard leading into Austin.

Our new organization wanted to acquire it all, restore the earlier damage and perpetually protect the natural corridor.

The only problem was that Scenic Galveston had no money. However, we had friends.

Johnny Walker, head of Ducks Unlimited, and I talked. He suggested our group “go for” a NAWCA grant.

A what? I said.

A North American Wetlands Conservation Act grant, he said, funded primarily by Ducks Unlimited, through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. However, we had to have two-to-one matching funds to apply to the USFWS.

Next, we visited Bob Moore, Galveston’s well-known attorney. Then, Bob and I went to see John O’Quinn. John was charming, friendly, a big handsome guy, and we took to each other like ducks to water.

He promised that he would match the NAWCA grant if we were successful in our grant writing. My daughter, Lalise Mason, and I wrote and pored over the long, difficult application and communed with the resource agencies on the inventory of wetlands, threatened birds, wildlife and marine life that would be lost with the continued overbuilding and ecological decline of the I-45 Corridor.

Every agency had input and reviewed our lists of aquatics, plant communities, birds, wildlife and premiere stands of limey green alterniflora Spartina grasses that residents and nature would be losing if acquisition was not accomplished quickly.

John hated billboards with a passion, and he loved the spectacular vistas crossing over the wetlands as he came often to Galveston.

It was a done deal. Scenic Galveston got the NAWCA grant.

Though John did not give us unending funds — only $500,000 to match the NAWCA funds. We never asked for more. We did not need to.

He jump-started Scenic Galveston’s persistence to own the wetlands corridor; 18 years later, Scenic Galveston has acquired all 12 owners’ parcels on both sides of I-45 between Bayou Vista and to the southern end of the Santa Fe overpass — 2.9 miles of marshes on the east side along the rail, 2.5 miles on the West Marsh side, and from the West Galveston Bay shoreline across I-45 to the historic G.H. & H. rail.

Scenic Galveston owns by fee or gift 1,050 acres in this estuary.

Every acre is open to nonintrusive public uses — kayaking, canoeing, crabbing, birding, fly fishing, seining, sunbathing, photography, picnicking, research and outdoor classroom study.

Scenic Galveston does not own only the 16.7 acres remaining in the 20-foot landfill topped with cabarets.

With purchase, if John O’Quinn were alive today, I feel sure this place, surrounded by the county-dedicated John M. O’Quinn I-45 Scenic Estuarial Corridor, would revert to the originally planned observation turnout for the northbound travelers — giving a view toward Texas City including the 2,000 acres of the Virginia Point Peninsula Preserve.

O’Quinn was named as one of the 100 most influential lawyers in America by the National Law Journal.

The O’Quinn legend lives on. John is listed among the five best Texas Trial lawyers of the past century by The Houston Chronicle, as well as Harvard Law’s Best Lawyers in America.

On Saturday at 2 p.m., the new Pavillion (old spelling) and the transportation corridor will be dedicated officially as the John M. O’Quinn I-45 Scenic Estuarial Corridor as a park place for all people.

County Judge James Yarbrough will dedicate the corridor and the new pavilion, and other honoree citations will follow.

Thanks to “The Lord of the Jungle,” John O’Quinn, will be remembered as the most powerful, fun-loving, good man who Scenic Galveston ever had as a friend. Friends are invited to celebrate his day.

Evangeline L. Whorton is chairman and organizer of Scenic Galveston.

source: http://galvestondailynews.com/story/158623/

Photo by Kevin M. Cox
Photo by Kevin M. Cox

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Honoring Mr. O'Quinn's legacy, the Foundation's predominant focus reflects his lifetime of support in education, healthcare, environment and the lives of underprivileged youth in Houston, Texas and the surrounding area.
THE JOHN M. O'QUINN FOUNDATION: P.O. Box 27501 | Houston, Texas 77227

John M. O'Quinn (1941-2009) established The John M. O’Quinn Foundation (the "Foundation") in 1986. With his death in 2009, Mr. O'Quinn willed his entire estate to the Foundation. As of December 31, 2018, the Foundation has awarded more than $125 million in grants.  Most of the funds have been given within the state of Texas with a special emphasis on Houston, Mr. O'Quinn's home since his youth. Although the Foundation supports a wide variety of charitable activities, i...