Sunday, November 23, 2008

George Mitchell Preserve and nighttime activities in The Woodlands

Some residents have been murmuring lately about undesired people and sounds coming from the deep forest of the George Mitchell Preserve. I decided to take my dogs for a walk out there right before dark this past week, to see what I could see. Not too far from the entrance, I came across some teenagers playing war, dressed in camouflage clothes. One was wearing some cloth over his face as to conceal his identity. I did not pose any threat to them. Their weapons mimicked assault weapons, automatic or semi-automatic weapons. These were simply paint ball guns which looked something like this. I can see how some residents would not like to see this and quite frankly, I was a bit startled at first. I guess parents these days permit their children to play war with this equipment and let them go anywhere with it. Personally, it does not seem like a reasonable thing to do in our public parks. "Nonpowder guns (ball-bearing [BB] guns, pellet guns, air rifles, paintball guns) continue to cause serious injuries to children and adolescents." 1 The issue is not the paint ball material but the velocity of the projectile and the consequences to others.

Then I went deeper into this wonderful natural forest arriving at a place where there was significant standing water and decided I had better get back home. It was turning pretty dark. I had taken some photographs of Hurricane Ike's damage and felt that I had a pretty good handle on how the trees fared there. So on the way back, some other teenagers approached me, heading into the forest with sleeping bags and backpacks. Then I overheard a conversation. "We are going to have a campfire pretty soon. It is sure getting cold." I then asked them when they arrived where I was standing, "are you headed into the park?". They responded, "sure". I told them "the park is closing right now. You should be heading the other way". They said of course, "I did not know that". They continued to move into the forest, so I told them, "I will inform the parks department when I get home that you are here". I left them and then in a few minutes observed them following me back out of the park. I went on another path to see what I could see there and the group went on to the parking lot. In 10 minutes I returned to the parking lot and they were still there, sitting in their car. One of them was on a bicycle going back into the forest but when he saw me, he returned and all of them left. I did not report their activity to the parks department, trusting that the kids would not return. A few minutes earlier, I also saw three boys leaving the forest with a guitar case. I am unsure what was inside but since it was dark, I could not be assured that they were not the same three boys who were having the paint ball wars. I knew there were more than three boys engaged in that activity, because the boys were yelling to another group to come to them. My suspicion was that there were paint ball guns in the case.

This was a Saturday night and I expect to see teenagers there even though the park is closed and they should not be there. However, it is obvious that their activities are not exactly what we would like to see in a public park. Paint Ball wars are not good for the elderly nor for babies and the paint would not likely affect the environment, because of the natural ingredients. The boys probably were not intending to harm anything.

I became convinced that indeed there are nighttime unsupervised activities there which need to be contained. Where do boys go for a camp-out around here? We do not want fires in our forest for obvious reasons. There are no campsites that I know of and no rangers to supervise the children. Let's be reminded that our parks resemble areas where kids go camping in Boy Scouts. There is plenty of firewood, so the threat of having a major forest fire is definitely there. We need to take some action to quiet the parks at night and lower the risks of fire and other consequences of our teens playing unsupervised in the parks at night. There have been rumors of drug dealing. I am aware of pot smoking in the parks but not major drug deals. We need to see some police work in these areas, or at least some presence of rangers who will contact the parents and inform them about the issues of their children being in the parks after closing. Communicating about the safety hazards of paint ball wars and camping in our parks might be a good project for someone.

1Injury Risk of Nonpowder Guns

This park is managed by Montgomery County.

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