Land Bridges in Memorial Park: They Better Be Great

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.

Pile of 60-80 year old pines felled in Memorial Park south of Memorial Drive to make way for the new land bridges. Photo Aug. 16, 2020 by SC

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?

A drawing of the land bridges over Memorial Drive looking westward towards the Galleria. Graphic from the Memorial Park Conservancy.

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.

Where the trees were south of Memorial Drive in Memorial Park. Photo Aug. 27, 2020

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.

Read the rest of this post.

6 thoughts on “Land Bridges in Memorial Park: They Better Be Great”

  1. Jim Olive says:

    Well if ‘hardly anyone goes on the south side’ , why build a bridge? Massive waste of resources and loss of habitat. Try finding a picnic spot on the weekend on the Picnic Loop which is on the south side.

    1. Charles Drayden says:

      Well said. I have always found the south side well used and loved the beautiful display of nature there. I love the trees.

  2. Glen W says:

    Cutting the all those trees down just doesn’t make sense. If some had to go in order to build the land bridge, so be it. The explanation that the loblolly pines don’t belong makes no sense at all.

  3. Ryan B. says:

    Removal of trees – a sorrowful sight, but par for the course where the Kinders and their kind are involved. I’m still sore about the line of oaks they removed alongside the Jewish cemetery on Allen Parkway. I bike past that site occasionally and it still hurts. Sure, they replant, but I won’t be around to see the new trees in their resplendent maturity.

    My landscape architect friends all seem to agree: why leave a tree standing, when a new one would look better “over there?” In that world view, nature becomes something to be “moved around” and like Houston, always being rearranged, wiping away the memories and mental landscapes of our lives.

    Thanks for staying on top of this and educating us. Otherwise, this kind of destruction would proceed in the shadows.

  4. Manuel says:

    This is ridiculous. They know that what they are doing is wrong. They have signs on the fence gates that says “No cell phones or cameras allow inside work area. WHY? These beautiful trees have no voices. When I see all the huge Tree stumps laying on the parking lot, I can’t help to think that the hearts of these magnificent trees had been ripped out. Most of my friends are not been aware of what’s going inside these gated areas. Can you get the media involved so the public is aware?

    This is happening all over the city not just at Memorial park.

    What can we do as individuals to support your cause? Talking about it is OK but doing something about it is more Important.

    1. Thanks, Manuel. Some people have started a Facebook page: Save Memorial Park. It’s still in the works. And all our reports go out to journalists and media all over town, national publications too. But we’re still working on a more direct response. Stay tuned.

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