This former fishing community has blossomed into a bustling center of recreation, technology and commerce
As one of the largest cities in the world, Houston boasts a pretty diverse landscape for residents and visitors alike. With towering pines to the north, farmlands and crawfish paddies to the east, the hill country to the west, the Gulf to the south and an urban paradise smack dab in the middle, adventurers driving around the Houston area may come to the conclusion that the city is as varied and vast as a state in itself – actually, it is rumored to be bigger than some states.
Located between the concrete of Houston proper and the sands of Galveston lies a family-friendly area known for its boating, its ballooning and its aerospace intelligence. Yes, the Clear Lake area is home to many a suburbanite and destination to many a tourist, whether they call NASA an office or an intellectual amusement park.
The Clear Lake area, or as some call it, the Bay Area, is made up of parts of both Galveston and Harris County. The network of parts of Houston and Pasadena, as well as Clear Lake City, Clear Lake Shores, El Lago, Kemah, League City, Nassau Bay, Seabrook, Taylor Lake Village and Webster combines to form this lakeside suburb. Many reside in Clear Lake for the outstanding recreational boating; while for many others, it’s the close proximity to NASA. Formerly an economy based on farming, cattle raising and fishing, and then oil with the Humble Oil Co., the economy of Clear Lake has flourished with the inclusion of NASA. In 1961, the Clear Lake area became home to the Manned Spacecraft Center, later renamed the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center – thus, labeling Houston “Space City, USA.” Houston was the first word spoken from the moon, and the families of engineers and astronauts that have flocked to the Clear Lake area since the early ’60s have transformed it into a bustling destination to inhabit and visit. Many small- and medium-size companies have sprung up to support the population of the area and the thriving tourist industry.
The economy of the Clear Lake area is supported largely by the technology industry. The Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership cites aerospace, biotech and chemicals and plastics as some of the top large company employers, as well as independent school districts of the area. After all, those engineers have children that need to be molded into our future scientists and astronauts.
Speaking of education, the public school system in the Clear Lake area is ideal. The children of Clear Lake regularly score above average on the SAT with a median score of 1061, and more than 90 percent of the students enrolled in the public school system graduate. There are several math and science programs set up within the area to encourage focused study for students from elementary through high school, many of these programs dealing with the omnipresent NASA down the street.
In addition to primary studies, Clear Lake offers many technical schools and community colleges in the area, including the College of the Mainland and the San Jacinto College District. The area is also home to University of Houston-Clear Lake, a bachelor’s degree-granting institution that also offers masters degrees in more than 40 fields of study.
With a multitude of waterside views, piers and boat docks, the Clear Lake area is a great mix of master-planned communities and seaside retreats. Builders and developers have masterfully kept up with the demands of middle-class and upper middle-class home buyers, transforming parts of the Clear Lake area into a beautiful, gated, cul-de-sac-filled suburb. In addition to this, many of the smaller communities of the Clear Lake area have kept their seaside charm and fisherman’s mentality. With a comparable price-per-square-foot to other Houston suburbs, many residents have moved here happily and then commuted into the landlocked city of Houston.
Recreational boating here is a huge draw for residents and visitors alike. With lakes, creeks, a channel, bayou and bay traversing the area, Clear Lake is the perfect place for those looking for their sea legs. From sailboats to yachts to charter fishing boats, the Clear Lake area has the water covered. In fact, the area is the third largest recreational boating center in the United States because of its 7,700 available boat slips. There are a number of restaurants and resorts that allow boat people to tie up to their docks and enjoy their outdoor dining and hospitality. Boat tours are available of the area, or simply sit outside on the Kemah Boardwalk and enjoy the passing boats on the channel.
Once a small cluster of restaurants for boaters to stop and eat when cruising through, Kemah is now a tourist destination. In 1997, Tilman Fertitta, owner of Landry’s Seafood Inc., acquired the Kemah Boardwalk, and by 1999 and the boardwalk’s grand opening, he had transformed the sleepy area into a bustling attraction. Now the Kemah Boardwalk is home to a number of restaurants and shops, as well as a Ferris wheel, kiddie train and boardwalk-style games and rides. The Boardwalk Inn, a 52-room boutique hotel, offers rooms in the middle of the action. Families make Kemah a day-trip getaway or part of a complete vacation.
The Armand Bayou Nature Center is a nature preserve that houses more than 370 species of birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians. As a stop on the Central Flyway, the largest migratory bird route in North America, many visit the Armand Bayou Nature Center to view the multitudes of birds on their way through. With family activities, educational programs, eco adventures and camps, as well as the chance to observe animals in the wild, the center has become not only important to wildlife, but a popular destination for people as well.
For more information about the Clear Lake area, call the Clear Lake Chamber of Commerce at (281) 488-7676 or visit www.clearlakearea.com or call the Bay Area Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau at (800) 844-LAKE or visit www.visitbayareahouston.com. H