a blossoming gift

Memorial Park blooms with major $10 million gift to cultivate prairie

Memorial Park blooms with major $10 million gift to cultivate prairie

Memorial Park land bridge
Memorial Park's land bridges are currently under construction.  Rendering courtesy of Nelson Byrd Woltz

As Houstonians have been witnessing for the past few years, Memorial Park is in the midst of a renaissance, with a game-changing land bridge in the works, the recently opened Eastern Glades, and more than $200 million in improvements slated by 2028.

Now, Houston’s crown green space has received another impressive donation towards the reintroduction of the native Gulf Coast prairie, courtesy of a $10 million contribution from the The Cyvia and Melvyn Wolff Family Foundation. The massive contribution will help the park's Land Bridge and Prairie project realize its goals of establishing a more resilient ecology, enhancing animal habitats, improving storm water management, and providing a beautiful, immersive and accessible experience for Park visitors, according to a press release. 

“The transformation of Memorial Park is vitally important to our city and our Foundation. We are honored to be part of this incredible effort and proud to join the Kinders and others who have funded the vision for the park,” donor Cyvia Wolff said in a statement.  “Together, we are creating one of the largest urban prairie reclamation efforts in Texas so that Houstonians can experience a native landscape that has largely been lost.”

The multi-year project aims to restore 45 acres of native prairie to the park in an area that starts at the south basin of the land bridge and extends to an area north of Memorial Dr. For the time in more than a century, the land will look as it did when Indigenous people roamed the coastal plain — long before it was farmed by European settlers or served as the ground of Camp Logan, a training area for soldiers during World War I. 

Once a dominant feature of coastal Texas and Louisiana, less than 1-percent of its historic range remains, according to the Memorial Park Conservancy. Seeds from plants found along the park's railroad tracks will be added to others collected by the Nature Conservancy to enable the project's realization. 

One of the project's primary benefits will be making the park more resilient during floods. The new, south prairie basin will retain more water than the parking lots, woods, and baseball fields that occupied the area previously, while the prairie's deep root system will absorb more water that would otherwise wind up overwhelming Buffalo Bayou. 

Increased biodiversity means that native species will return to the park for the first time. Its proximity to the park's Bayou Wilds forest should create more opportunities for bird watchers. Park visitors will be able to experience the prairie through trails and other paths that will connect to other areas of the park. 

“Cyvia and Melvyn Wolff are an important part of the fabric of Houston with their leadership in business and education. It is a true honor for us to be working with the Wolff Foundation in returning to the park’s ecological and cultural roots and to, quite literally, plant the seeds for Memorial Park’s future,” said Shellye Arnold, president and CEO of Memorial Park Conservancy.   “Through thoughtful research, design, planting, and stewardship, this project will create new places for park visitors to enjoy, grow, and learn for years to come.” 

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Steven Devadanam contributed to this article.

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