"Sheldon Lake State Park & Environmental Learning Center is a 2,800 acre outdoor education and recreation facility located in northeast Harris County. The park is split into two units: Sheldon Lake is accessible from Garrett and Pineland roads and the Environmental Learning Center is accessible from Beaumont Highway. The reservoir levees encompass 1,200 acres, of which 800 are permanently inundated and 400 acres are marsh and swampland. Sheldon Reservoir, located on Carpenters Bayou, a tributary of Buffalo Bayou, was constructed in 1942 by the Federal government to provide water for war industries along the Houston Ship Channel."
- From the Sheldon Lake State Park web site
The lake is known for its birds. Closed to boats from November to March so as not to disturb wintering birds, the lake is open for paddling and fishing the rest of the year.
When there several times over the past weeks, I've seen red wing black birds, blue heron, white heron, and other birds too numerous to name. I'm not a birder, but its fun to watch and the birds let you get close in a kayak or canoe.
The lake is also home to several alligators, some measuring 12-14 feet. As long as you keep a reasonable distance, they won't bother you and its fun to watch these moving "logs". Get within 10 feet and they'll swirl in the water and dive, surfacing 5 to 10 feet farther away.
There's a lot of aquatic vegetation at Sheldon, clogging the waterway on the shallow North end along Garret Road. But, there's plenty of open water to paddle.
This is NOT a pristine wilderness lake, but is located in a very industrialized area. Its a small oasis for wildlife and they flock to it. Its value to the recreational paddler is its birds, alligators, and good fishing opportunities.
Fishing for bass, sunfish, and catfish can be very good at times. Away from the shallow areas, especially the North end, there is plenty of open water to paddle without hassling with aquatic vegetation. The lake has numerous small islands where the birds rest and nest, also the alligators. There are also a number of cypress trees in the lake.
During the week, there are no crowds. It's doable on the weekends too as its a fishing lake, not for skiing. Horsepower for motor boats is limited to ten horsepower, thank the Lord. Its an oasis in an urban/industrial jungle and well worth a visit.
There are no toilet facilities at Sheldon Lake, though there are at the Environmental Center down the road on Hwy 90. But, they are a long way away and a service station will serve as well. On the left side of the boat ramp, there is a small area from which one can launch, or do so at the concrete boat ramp, though be aware of it scratching your boat. There are no eating facilities close by and its best to make sure you have enough gas to get to a station from Sheldon. So, get your food before you get to Sheldon, bring your own (no picnic facilities), or go after you paddle. Motel/hotel accommodations are your usual suspects in Houston. None are available that pass muster near Sheldon.
The lake is free as is the environmental center. Last time I went, the environmental center was undergoing major renovations, outfitting it for teaching children about the environment. Its facilities were limited and may not be open.
Best directions and an account of the lake may be obtained at http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/park/sheldon. From Houston or North of town, the lake may be approached by exiting US 59, a major North/South highway either at Hwy 90 or Beltway 8 and going east. If coming from 59 on Hwy 90, pass under Beltway 8, turn left on Pineland. The boat ramp is on your right about a half mile from 90. From the Beltway, turn left onto Garret Road, go to Pineland Street, and turn right. The turn off for the boat ramp will be on your left about a mile and one half down.
The best guide to Sheldon is at the Sheldon Lake State Park website: http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/park/sheldon. The website has a downloadable map of the lake.