In 2013, the Conservancy and its partners initiated a nationwide search for a landscape architectural firm to develop a Master Plan for the Park. After a 6-month screening process, the planning team retained Nelson Byrd Woltz (NBW) a world-renowned firm whose achievements include the Summit Bechtel Family National Scout Reserve (also known as the 10,000-acre Boy Scout Jamboree national site) in West Virginia, the Orongo Station in New Zealand, Hudson Yards in Manhattan, and Centennial Park in Nashville.
The Conservancy then oversaw a rigorous public input process to ensure that the Master Plan addressed the needs and desires of the vast community which it serves. Prior to initiating design, MPC engaged 3,300 Houstonians in eight public meetings, 20 workshops, and online surveys and conducted a market study. Additionally, the master planning team undertook scientific, cultural, historical, geological, hydrological and other research, securing input 75 local consultants and experts including biologists, foresters, historians and others.
The Memorial Park Master Plan was unanimously approved by Houston City Council on April 1, 2015. The plan is one of the largest and most visionary urban parks projects currently underway in the United States. In recognition of this fact, NBW and Memorial Park recently received the added distinction of a prestigious national award recognizing the master plan from the American Society of Landscape Architects, one of only 30 awards granted nationally from a pool of over 450 applicants. The overarching goal of the Plan is echoed in the mission of MPC: to restore, enhance and protect Memorial Park for today and for generations to come. The Plan:
- Improves Park amenities, adding over 30 miles of trails for hiking, biking running and equestrian use to rebuilding ball fields and picnic areas;
- Expands the Park by accessing hundreds of acres of underutilized and/or inaccessible land and connecting parts of the Park that are currently disconnected;
- Establishes and nurtures distinct ecologies to create a resilient Park;
- Improves habitat for the plant, tree, and animal life native to the Park;
- Embraces and reveals the Park’s and Houston’s history;
- Addresses concerns for Park user safety;
- Captures and reuses storm water; and
- Addresses basic needs and infrastructure, for example, by providing for water lines, water retention, fire control, restrooms and water fountains.
The overall result will be a Memorial Park in which the ecology has been restored – reversing decades of invasive species growth, poor water management and a lack of design planning – resulting in a resilient environment, better able to withstand the dynamics of nature.
Project Milestones and Timeline
Memorial Park Conservancy anticipates approximately 20 years to the completion of the Master Plan in its entirety. A combination of public dollars and private philanthropy will be the primary sources of funding. Because a great deal of project planning and prioritization is involved in restoring the Park, the Master Plan will involve different phases to allow for projects that require needed infrastructure such as roads and public water sources.
On December 7, 2015–only 8 months after the Master Plan’s approval by City Council—the Conservancy, the Uptown TIRZ and HPARD broke ground on the first major project in the Master Plan, the Eastern Glades. This premier project embodies the call heard during the public input phase of the master planning process. Designed to reflect the 1920’s Master Plan for Memorial Park by landscape architects Hare & Hare, the Eastern Glades introduces amenities within 87 acres of the Park that are not currently accessible due to forest overgrowth, lack of a trail system and an ill-placed Park road. Moving the road is a critical first step to opening the Eastern Glades acreage that is inaccessible today.
Other key features include active forest management and reforestation with native trees, storm water reclamation and reuse at a new lake, expansion of wetlands, and establishment of new passive recreation and education areas. The project includes the addition of two features that were the most common requests we received from the public: gathering space for picnicking and restrooms. Educational signage will highlight the function of the newly added wetlands and the dynamic ecology of the Park. The area once served as an entrance into Camp Logan, the WWI military training camp for which Memorial Park is named. At the location of the original camp entrance, the eastern edge of the Glades features a new pedestrian entrance, creating a physical connection between park users and the Park’s history. The newly reforested area on the east side of the project will create a sense of seclusion for the Park and maintain privacy for its neighbors. The project will extend the Seymour Lieberman Exer-Trail from 2.8 to a full 3 miles, a benefit the thousands of daily runners in the Park will most appreciate. Other amenities include parking and a multiuse trail for safer biking and walking.
Memorial Park Tomorrow
View videos and presentations from the Master Plan public meeting series at www.memorialparktomorrow.org.