Sacrificing Magnificent Pines. For Whom?
Aug. 31, 2020
So construction has begun in Houston’s Memorial Park on the $70 million “land bridges” that will cover Memorial Drive, placing the busy six-lane roadway under two arching concrete tunnels. The tunnels will be covered with 300,000 pounds of dirt and planted like a prairie. In addition, numerous mature loblolly pines and other trees have been/will be removed on the north and south sides of Memorial Drive to make room for construction and extend restored prairie.
The purpose of the dramatic land bridges, according to its proponents, is to connect the north and south sides of the park, create a scenic attraction, and provide a safe passage for people and wildlife. But the question on many people’s minds is: who or what is going to go from the woods, ravines, Buffalo Bayou banks, and wetland prairie of the south side to the new PGA Tour golf course, jogging trail, and sports facilities on the north side? Or vice versa?
Major funders of the park’s 2015 Master Plan admit to rarely if ever having been on the south side of the park and claim that it is “hardly used.” But on any given day, any time of the day, the magical woods and trails of the south side are filled with the voices and presence of families with small children, lone hikers, couples, trail bikers, joggers, bird watchers, and others who treasure the rare experience of wild wooded ravines in the center of the city.
We can only hope that going forward this experience of nature will be preserved for the people of Houston, as the park was intended. We would be happy to accompany Mr. and Mrs. Kinder and Mr. John Breeding on a tour of these south side woods so that they can become better acquainted with them. Breeding, representing private Galleria-area real estate interests, is overseeing the expenditure of some $108 million in public funds on this $200-300 million master plan.
Note that there is already a modest Living Bridge that connects the north and sides of the park, as well as several drainage culverts under Woodway and Memorial for any coyotes, rabbits, bobcats, or possums that desire to roam discreetly on the new golf course or tennis courts. The Living Bridge is the partial result of the excellent, nature-sensitive, and unrealized 2004 Master Plan for the park.
Trees Don’t Belong There?
This felling of 60-80 year-old pines, along with other large trees, is on top of the hundreds of mature trees that have been removed for the golf course renovation, creation of a two-level golf practice facility, and construction of the Eastern Glades. Trees in Memorial Park are not protected by city code. (p. 43)
Despite claims that pines are not native to Memorial Park, or that the pines, hackberry and other trees “don’t belong” in the landscape south and north of Memorial Drive, Harris County is part of the Pineywoods, which extends west through Memorial (see Piney Point) ending in an ancient remnant of loblollies in the Lost Pines Forest of Bastrop County. Early surveys of the bayou from 1831 through 1848 (p. 42) as well as letters from a soldier at Camp Logan in 1917 describe the pines of what is now Memorial Park.
Some Good Things
Here are some good things about the land bridges:
1. Possibly will reduce traffic noise in the park from the road, though trees and bushes do that too.
2. Creates some new greenspace above the roadway.
3. Part of a plan to re-naturalize the south side of the park used for team sports, cycling, and picnicking. Those activities are being moved to new facilities north of Memorial Drive.
Some Bad Things
1. Costs a huge amount of money ($70 million). Some people call it a “waste.”
2. Do not appear to serve any useful purpose.
3. Buries a scenic drive inside darkened tunnels.
4. Kills a lot of magnificent trees.