stairs of clay
Memorial Park rocks out with cool new stony 'stairs' thanks to generous local family benefactors
Memorial Park fans may hit Houston's green jewel specifically to escape pavement, but a stony new land feature there promises to be an interesting addition.
The park's Conservancy has revealed The Emily Clay Family Scramble, a clever new series of blocks on the park's Land Bridge and Prairie that will offer visitors direct access to the new 100-acre project from the popular Seymour Lieberman Exer-Trail.
In homage to Memorial Drive's past, the large blocks are made of upcycled pavement chunks from a former section of Memorial Drive that was removed as part of the Land Bridge's construction. It also harks to the millions of cars that have travelled along the major thoroughfare running through the heart of the park, per press materials.
The Scramble — along with the 100-acre Land Bridge and Prairie — will reconnect the Park and will open to the public in early 2023.
“The Land Bridge and Prairie will truly transform Memorial Park as we know it,” said Emily Clay in a statement. “I’m so happy to be a part of making Memorial Park even better for Houstonians looking for fitness and fun outdoors!” She also told CityBook: “I’ve been out on that trail hundreds of times, and it’s nice to see something that goes up, especially in Houston. We don’t have hills here.”
The Clay Family —Catherine, Emily, and Will — also gifted Clay Family Eastern Glades to the park.houston.culturemap.com
Indeed, we don't, but the as CultureMap previously reported, the Land Bridge — and its two separate 35-foot-tall hills — will serve as a major connector for Memorial Park users and wildlife between the north and south sides of the park. That means an important and safe passage for wildlife and humans crossing over Memorial Drive. and sweeping views for humans. offering new gathering spaces with scenic views of Houston and the project’s expansive prairie system.
It's a massive sign of growth and development for Memorial Drive, which started as an oyster-shell road and is now a six-lane roadway and median that divides Memorial Park’s 1,500 acres in half.
“A highly visible representation of the Conservancy’s focus on sustainability, the Emily Clay Family Scramble is a one-of-a-kind, fun feature of the Land Bridge and Prairie that will be enjoyed by athletes and kids alike,” said Shellye Arnold, president and CEO of Memorial Park Conservancy, in a statement. “We are so grateful to Emily and her family for continuing to help advance Memorial Park’s transformation. As envisioned by our lead landscape architect Thomas Woltz of Nelson Byrd Woltz, with the opening of the Scramble, the roadway will be in service to the Park instead of the Park being in service to the road.”
This isn't the first major Clay Family gift to the park: In 2018, the family gifted $10 million to Memorial Park Conservancy to create the game-changing Clay Family Eastern Glades. The glades reclaimed and restored 100 acres of largely inaccessible and ecologically distressed parkland and introduced the 5.5-acre Hines Lake and wetlands, 2.5 miles of new boardwalks and walking trails, new picnicking areas and more in 2020.
As also previously reported, all this comes as part of the Ten-Year Plan, which represents a significant portion of the 2015 Memorial Park Master Plan. The Ten-Year Plan was made possible by a $70 million catalyst gift from the Kinder Foundation in 2018 and other generous donors, including The Cyvia and Melvyn Wolff Family Foundation, which donated $10 million in 2021 towards the re-introduction of native Gulf Coast prairie to Memorial Park.
Memorial Park Conservancy and its partners – Kinder Foundation, Houston Parks and Recreation Department, and Uptown Houston – plan more than $200 million of improvements to Memorial Park by 2028.