Don Greene (January 3, 1948 – August 18, 2014) was a professional guide, outfitter and outdoor educator for 39 years (1975-2014). He was also a widely publicized spokesperson for water safety and river protection. Based in Houston, Texas, and most notably through his business, The Whitewater Experience, Greene showed thousands of people the wilderness at their doorstep, throughout Texas, New Mexico and the Grand Canyon. Greene pioneered outdoor education programs in Houston, and devoted most of his life to preserving Houston’s Buffalo Bayou.
A sense of place
Don Greene grew up on a half-acre property on the edge of Houston’s Bellaire neighborhood at 6009 Cypress Street. Before he was age 10, he saw his wilderness playground, Brays Bayou, ripped up, straightened out and concreted for flood control. Don returned to his Cypress Street homestead with his mother’s passing in the 1980s. He acquired the half-acre next door at 6005 Cypress Street where The Whitewater Experience operated for over 20 years. From this urban one-acre, Greene outfitted and operated more than 500 educational river trips, hosted wilderness medical training, trained teachers in the outdoor ethos, and launched extended trips for Houston schools.
Counter-culture to the great dis-ease
The Cypress Street property became Don Greene’s personal experiment in sustainable living practices, both for people and for wildlife. Greene created rainwater harvesting, solar power, passive air conditioning and edible gardening on the one acre, all to provide an example and living resource to others tired of the city’s drum. Increasingly, Greene viewed the busy-ness of Houston’s culture as the source of great dis-ease. He had long eschewed his three-piece suit and the advertising career for the life of an outfitter and educator. Greene’s urban counter-culture approach, a simple lifestyle free of the acquisitive impulse, allowed him to be in tune with Nature in the middle of the city. Daily, he was visited by a wide variety of creatures on his property, and he responded to them with a welcomed heart.
Leading in the city, running the river into the wilderness
At the top of his game, Greene was running regular trips on Texas’ Colorado, Brazos and Guadalupe rivers, on the Rio Grande of Big Bend and through Arizona’s Grand Canyon while making huge strides to bring appreciation and preservation to Houston’s Buffalo Bayou through group trips, publicity, events and networking with civic leaders. He began Houston’s Reeking Regatta, an annual event that continues today through the Buffalo Bayou Partnership. He organized the Mucky Duck Race where participants raced hundreds of rubber yellow ducks down Buffalo Bayou. For 14 years, he served as President of the Bayou Preservation Association. He single-handedly chain-sawed deadly strainers and log jams on the bayou. And, with every caller and every boat rental inquiry, he engaged that person with powerful advice and a tone of reverence for Houston’s most precious natural resource, the great Buffalo Bayou.
Design and Conceptual Contributions
Don was known for brilliant ideas, some – ahead of his time – and others with a certain ring.
Fresh out of college, he began his career as an advertising idea man. He created the “Libby’s on the Label” jingle made famous on television commercials of the 1970’s.
Throughout his life, Greene freely offered his creative ideas to water-related structures. In 1980, he worked with AstroWorld General Manager Bill Crandall to create Thunder River, the world’s first simulated whitewater river ride. Thunder River became a fixture at Six Flags AstroWorld for 25 years, and an attraction at both Six Flags Over Georgia and Six Flags St. Louis.
When Sysco Corporation CEO and friend John Woodhouse was planning Sysco’s new corporate office on Buffalo Bayou at Loop 610, Greene suggested that the building be set at an angle to the stream and paneled with mirrored glass to create an illusion in the trees. The envisioned building still stands across the stream from the Houston Arboretum and Nature Center.
As Houston’s Wortham Center was being designed, Greene suggested a stepped, circular arena for outdoor performances near Buffalo Bayou. Today, the space is visible from the bayou, and is connected to the performing arts center’s promenade.
With an ethos for fiercely protecting Texas rivers, Don served as a member of the Rivers Advisory Board for Texas Parks and Wildlife and as a founding director of Texas Rivers Protection Association. Commissioned by the Lower Colorado River Authority, he canoed Texas’ Colorado River to create the Colorado River Trail.
Throughout his life, Don Greene received numerous awards, including:
The Freedoms Foundation’s George Washington Honor Medal for Excellence in Outdoor Education
The President’s Outdoor Recreation Award
The Jesse L. Walls Conservation Award
The Sierra Club Special Service Award
The Park People Environmental Award
In 1964, Don became an Eagle Scout through Troop 222 chartered at Bellaire United Methodist Church in Bellaire, Texas. Among the numerous national and local commendations received throughout his life, Don regarded his Eagle Scout rank as one of the highest honors.
In his last wishes, Don Greene expressed the desire that his Cypress Street homestead be used as an Urban Scout Outpost, and that his property on Texas’ Terlingua Creek be made available to scouts at any time.