Let’s Keep Memorial Park Natural, Just as Ima Hogg Wanted
Opinion by Frank C. Smith Jr, The Houston Chronicle, March 27, 2019
Many of us remember the shocking impact of the years of droughts on our beloved Memorial Park. The record dry spell in 2011 killed more than half the trees in the 1,500-acre park on Buffalo Bayou. Scores of distraught Houstonians were moved to raise funds and plant new trees.
But now hundreds of trees, including towering pines and oaks, are being deliberately felled as part of a $200 to $300 million landscaping plan. Anyone walking in the park or even driving through can plainly see the bright plastic ribbons wrapped around the trunks of the legions of trees facing imminent doom on both sides of Memorial Drive.
Many more trees still unmarked are to be cut down on the west side of the park to make way for sports facilities, a relocated Memorial Drive and, in an unhappy irony, an ecologically damaging monoculture of pines to be planted in unnaturally regimented rows as a memorial to those who served in World War I.
As though this were not disturbing enough, the landscaping plan includes creating artificial streams and hardening them with wire, concrete rubble and “rock” of some sort.
The Beauty of Memorial Park
The unique beauty of Memorial Park and its distinctive benefit to Houstonians has been its forests and clear, sand-bottomed streams flowing through deep, winding ravines to Buffalo Bayou. This is part of Houston’s natural history, and this great public park offers our city residents the rare opportunity to experience the wonder of these living trees and streams.
I have been involved with Memorial Park for more than 50 years. Before she died in 1975, I promised my friend Ima Hogg that I would always be a guardian of the natural character of the park. Miss Ima’s family sold the land for the park, previously a World War I training camp, to the city at cost in 1924.
There are admirable aspects of the current master plan for the park — notably the Eastern Glades and the “naturalization” of what are now ball fields south of Memorial Drive, facilities that will be moved to the north. However, a previous plan from 2004, approved by City Council, was less intrusive and more respectful of the character of the park. It described the park as “Houston’s foremost natural wooded bayou park” and “a refuge from intense urbanization.”
Read the rest of this editorial in the Chronicle.
Beautiful Oaks Doomed on Memorial Park Golf Course?
Are Big Trees Part of Massive Tree Felling Project in Public Park?
March 21, 2019
Updated March 24 and 28, 2019
Updated April 3, 2019: The trees are to be saved. The Parks Department finally responded with an email Wednesday morning, April 3. “In response to your question, the fencing is to protect the trees and not cut them down,” wrote Estella Espinosa, communications manager for the Houston Parks and Recreation Department.
Strolling along Memorial Drive past the fence obscuring the secret remodel of the public golf course in Houston’s Memorial Park, we noticed these lovely old oaks tagged with ties and surrounded by plastic fencing. We were alarmed. Hundreds of other trees, including mature oaks and pines, are marked for felling with plastic ribbons all over the 1500-acre park, which has already lost innumerable trees as the $200-300 million Master Plan is bulldozed into place. But these trees were on the golf course. Could it be they were marked for preservation? Other trees already have been felled as part of the controversial $13.5 million “upgrade” of the popular course into a PGA Tour tournament-level course.
Waiting for An Answer
We’ve contacted the Memorial Park Conservancy, the private nonprofit that raises funds and manages the park for the benefit of the people of Houston. We’ll have an answer soon, we hope.
Update: Representatives of the Conservancy have responded that the renovation of the golf course for PGA Tour tournaments is the responsibility of the City of Houston Parks and Recreation Department and that we should ask HPARD about the trees. So we sent an email about the trees to HPARD Director Steve Wright late on Thursday, March 21, and we are waiting for a reply.
Update March 28: Still no word from the Houston Parks Department. Looking like the trees are doomed.
Developers Plan to Improve Memorial Park by Cutting a Lot of Trees, “Re-establishing” Streams
Business Group Requests Federal Permit for Dredging, Filling Wetlands, Hardening Tributaries to Buffalo Bayou
Public Comment Due by April 4, 2019
March 13, 2019
A Galleria-area development group has asked for a federal permit to fill wetlands and dredge and armor streams in Memorial Park in order to build two “earthen land bridges” over Memorial Drive. The project, part of a controversial $200-300 million landscaping plan for the public park, requires the felling of hundreds of trees, including mature pines, digging up and lining the streams with concrete rubble and wire baskets of “rocks,” covering Memorial Drive with concrete tunnels, and relocating playing fields and picnic areas.
The Harris County Improvement District 1, otherwise known as the Uptown Houston District is a local government corporation composed of property owners and developers and funded by special property tax levies. Its members are appointed by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. In 2013 the boundaries of the Uptown District, which is also governed by the Uptown Development Authority or Uptown Houston Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone (TIRZ 16), though they have different boards, was expanded to include Memorial Park, a 1,500-acre semi-forested park on Buffalo Bayou in the center of Houston. The TIRZ uses local property taxes that would otherwise go to the City’s general fund.
The park, formerly the site of a World War I-era military training camp, is also a State Antiquities Landmark. (See also here.) Parts of a small constructed channel connecting the two originally natural though partially altered tributaries appear to be walled with stone possibly dating from that period. The two tributaries flow through deep wooded ravines lined with lovely dirt paths and empty in Buffalo Bayou.
“Rocks,” other than ancient sandstone, are not natural to Houston’s streams.
Public Comment Period Until April 4
The Improvement District last week filed an application for a permit from the US Army Corps of Engineers, which enforces the federal Clean Water Act. The Corps is seeking public comment on the permit application, including on whether a public hearing should be held. The public has until April 4 to comment. See below for how to comment.