There is a piece of land in Corpus Christi which hides a secret. It is perhaps one of the only places in in town where you can enjoy nature in its raw form, untouched for 8 years. It is a contentious piece of land that has for the past few years been under a constant battle for development. It will be developed, not now, but soon in the future. Land of that size and value does not go unnoticed. It was only a matter of time before it was sold, divided, and constructed. I am not here to choose sides in this argument, I don't live there anymore. Think of this article as a eulogy or a time capsule of my experience, a way to say goodbye.
The piece of land in question is the Pharaoh Valley Golf course. To get an idea as to why I became so attracted to this place, you have to first understand the other available options for natural beauty in Corpus Christi. During my 2 year stay in town, I visited nearly every park listed on google maps. Each one seemed to be designed specifically for one thing, to check a box marked “park”. They had everything a park needs, trash bins, grass, a tree or two. Maybe they even had a playground, baking in the sun uncovered. Some with soccer goals or baseball fields, most often unused. The one thing each park lacked was nature. It was the absence of nature in general which was their most striking feature. The two locations which had the most potential to fill this absence were the Oso Creek trails and Suter Wildlife Refuge. Both were so close to achieving their goal yet fell short.
Oso Creek trail is not open to 4x4 traffic yet is completely devastated with ruts and erosion from over use of motorized vehicles. While walking I noticed ruts so deep they came up to your knees. We even saw people on 4 wheelers drive past a clearly marked “no vehicle” sign. The second option, Suter wildlife refuge, is an amazing contrast to the rest of the Oso bay coastline. Housing developments along Oso bay extend as close as possible to the water’s edge. In some cases even walking would be challenging, as porches are nearly touching the bay. Suter refuge is a beautiful oasis along the water. Old growth native plants provide habitat for butterflies and birds. The beach is nearly untouched and an excellent sight to see. However, it is tiny, and mostly inaccessible to the public. This is not inherently a bad thing, but when it comes to availability of nature to the people, it falls short.
This leads me finally to Pharoah Valley. I found it, like I find most parks, looking in satellite view on google maps. It was unlabeled and listed as closed, but it looked interesting and I thought it would be worth a visit. As I entered the golf course for the first time I was immediately taken back by its size and beauty. It was enormous, over grown and natural. You could clearly see where nature began to take over the features that define a golf course. The quantity and variety of birds present in the park was startling. On each visit I seemed to uncover more species than the last. The man made water features were suddenly left to their own devices and returned to a somewhat marshy habitat. Ducks of all kinds took up residence in the ponds. It was an oasis in the center of a city.
For the better part of 2 years I walked in the golf course nearly every weekend. On many occasions I was alone, rarely seeing more than one person at a time on my visits. The area was quiet, and left me with a sense of calm. As a wildlife refuge the golf course could check every box. Accessibility to nature, ability for recreation, wildlife habitat. However, it lacks one thing, wildlife habitats don’t make money. They never have and never will. Their value is non-monetary. Yes some value can be measured in the value of the property around it. People will pay high prices to live in quiet near natural beauty. But the land itself loses value when left untouched. The value of untouched land is in the impression it leaves on the people who use it.
In Memphis TN a railroad was closed and turned into a bike lane called the greenbelt. It was a very contentious issue. The money came from a private donor, there were legal hiccups and property owners who didn’t want it going through their backyard. People argued that robberies would increase and the neighborhood would suddenly fall to crime. None of this happened. What did happen is suddenly a community which rarely interacted with each other, began to build relationships. People who had nowhere to ride a bike, suddenly had a place. People began to go outside and enjoy the natural beauty that the trail provided. Nature education classes sprung up in neighborhoods that never had them before. If you asked the people now how they feel about the trail, I would argue that 9/10 would say the greenbelt had a positive impact on their life. The greenbelt is free and makes no money from its use.
This is the value of natural places.
All views and opinions are my own. All photos were taken by me.