Let’s Keep Memorial Park Natural, Just as Ima Hogg Wanted


Opinion by Frank C. Smith Jr, The Houston Chronicle, March 27, 2019

Smith is an original member of the group that became the Memorial Park Conservancy and the founding president of Save Buffalo Bayou.


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.

Mature pines felled north of Memorial Drive for land bridges. Photo by SC Jan. 24, 2019

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.

6 thoughts on “Let’s Keep Memorial Park Natural, Just as Ima Hogg Wanted”

  1. Bart Wittrock says:

    Hey, I also use the park and hate the proposed changes. I have recently found what I believe is an area of trash dumping, which I believe is from Camp Logan. This includes some indisputable military items… Is it possible that this would be an issue to stop construction while further investigation was held?

    Thanks for Caring, Bart Wittrock

    1. Absolutely. Please send your information to the Corps of Engineers. Reference file number SWG-2018-00549.

      North Unit
      Regulatory Division, CESWG-RDE
      U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
      P.O. Box 1229
      Galveston, Texas 77553-1229
      409-766-3869 Phone


      1. Meryl Cohen says:

        I have emailed and called the Corps to voice my disapproval of the plan that is destroying the natural beauty of Memorial Park. I will volunteer to help stop this any way I can. I use the park and have felt helpless until I read Frank Smith’s letter. The south side of the park’s trails are my spiritual haven in this concrete city. I lost my home in Harvey. I am ready to volunteer.

        1. Thank you, Meryl. Be sure to let the Memorial Park Conservancy, the Mayor, your city council member, and the Uptown TIRZ know of your feelings.

          The southside trails are indeed a respite.

  2. Terry says:

    I’m rather torn about this whole project – I’m happy the park is getting attention and “improvements”, but it seems like this land bridge is just too much and doesn’t really jive with the original goals of the park, as ya’ll have explained. The area they’re going to have to destroy to build it has many nice trees, though it’s a nice idea to consolidate the sports fields and such to one spot. I wonder if they could be made to use some of those tree-moving machines to save some of them?

    I try to think long-term on this, and 50 years from now I suspect many will be very happy with the park if this ends up happening. Those of us who have grown up and enjoyed the park as-is naturally don’t want big changes, but it does seem like they’re generally trying to improve the environment here.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Terry. Let’s hope we can persuade them to leave more of the messy, natural beauty of the park and less of a controlled, landscaped, outdoor gym experience.

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