The long-range master plan for Memorial Park is taking final shape with a proposed recreation complex grouping all playing fields, a natatorium to replace the outdoor pool for year-round swimming, a Memorial Grove dedicated to the fallen soldiers of Camp Logan and designated bike and pedestrian trails to keep traffic safe. Those are all components of reuniting the park while restoring ecosystems and making nods to history.
Team members behind the plan presented the latest updates Tuesday at the ninth and final public hearing for the park's future, just a few weeks before the long-range master strategy will go to the city's Quality of Life Committee. The proposition is set to be submitted to the Houston City Council in April.
"We've looked at the history, at each of the stories this park has to tell," Thomas Woltz, principal with Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects, said, referring back to the area's original use by Native Americans, an era of logging, the days of Camp Logan and to the Hoggs' dedication of the property to the city. "Our goal is to rebuild that ecology so to carry that history into the future."
A Bridge Together
"We first need to restitch the park back together," Woltz said. "We want the park to feel bigger, to feel like you're in the middle of a continuous 1,500-acre park."
The proposed grass- and tree-covered land bridge spanning about 600 feet over six lanes of Memorial Drive is a big step in reconnecting the park, which is now divided by roads into about 25 pieces. It's also about organizing the activities within Houston's largest green space.
Funding for the project is estimated to cost upwards of $100 million and take as long as 20 years.
"We're bringing all the playing fields together to the north portion of the park, so that they can share the irrigation and maintenance they require," Woltz said, adding the fields will still include one rugby pitch, two volleyball courts, one soccer field, one baseball diamond, five softball diamonds and two croquet courts. No existing field will be removed prior to completion of the corresponding new facility.
World War I History
New pine trees have already been planted to establish Memorial Groves, Woltz said, which is located on the site of Camp Logan. The long-range master plan designates interpretative markers, access paths, small picnic areas and parking for the area — without damaging or disturbing any remnants at the former World War I-era army training location.
"We want the park to feel bigger, to feel like you're in the middle of a continuous 1,500-acre park."
More components of the long-range master plan include dedicated-use trails, a children's play area, a new timing track at the running center, natatorium and 30 percent more parking achieved by redistribution.
"You'll also see major ponds being dug throughout the park," Woltz said. "About 85 million gallons of drinking water are used to irrigate Memorial Park, and we know we can reduce that substantially."
The Houston Arboretum and Nature Center, which is part of Memorial Park, has embarked on its own master plan in conjunction with the park's proposal, Woltz said. The planners recognize the importance of the golf course, as well, and have identified it in their analysis.
None of the current roads accessing the park will be removed, and no additional entry points are included in the master plan, Woltz said. Within the park, some existing roadways will be realigned to create more useable park space. To the west, the plan calls for moving the segment of Memorial Drive between the railroad and Loop 610, and to the east, Memorial Loop Road will shift further east.
The Department of Public Works has reviewed both proposed changes at a preliminary level.
Woltz is leading the effort to vivify the grounds that were ravaged by Hurricane Ike in 2008 and by the droughts that have plagued Texas in recent years. He has surrounded himself with a team of 70-plus local ecology, history, archaeology, plant biology and more experts to assist in the massive undertaking.
The Houston Parks and Recreation Department began in 2011 to develop a long-term forestry management plan for the park, with then-ongoing drought serving as the driving force behind the initiative. In May 2013, the Uptown Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone boundary was expanded to include Memorial Park, and in September that same year, the privately funded Memorial Park Conservancy selected Nelson Byrd Woltz to oversee the major undertaking to restore this 1,500-acre escape that attracts four million visitors each year.
Funding for the project, estimated to cost upwards of $100 million and take as long as 20 years, is coming from the three entities.