Venturing outdoors has become a respite for many Houstonians, who have spent more time at home than usual since the COVID-19 pandemic hit the region in March.
People all over the city have a new option for enjoying nature, and it’s just a short drive or bike ride from the Greater Heights.
The Clay Family Eastern Glades, a 100-acre area in Memorial Park that has undergone a $35 million transformation, opened to the public last weekend. It features a 5.5-acre lake with surrounding wetlands, more than 2.5 miles of boardwalks and accessible walking trails and community areas such as an event lawn, food truck court and picnic pavilions.
“Eastern Glades provides a much-needed place for people to engage with nature and experience Houston in a whole new way – and our citizens need and deserve this now more than ever,” Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said in a news release from the Memorial Park Conservancy.
The Eastern Glades, the first major project associated with Memorial Park’s 2015 master plan, is the product of a public-private partnership between the Memorial Park Conservancy, Houston Parks and Recreation Department, Uptown Development Authority and the Kinder Foundation. The City of Houston invested $10 million through the development authority, while the Kinder Foundation, Wendy and Jeff Hines, Emily and Robert Clay and other donors provided the remaining $25 million.
A reclamation and restoration of largely inaccessible and ecologically distressed land, the Memorial Park Conservancy said the Eastern Glades will provide stormwater detention and promote biodiversity in addition to being an attraction for park visitors. An installation around the glades’ central lawn features personal quotes about the park from more than 50 Houstonians, which were curated by Madison Petaway, Houston’s 2020 Youth Poet Laureate.
The Eastern Glades, located north of Memorial Drive between the recently revamped Memorial Park Golf Course and Crestwood Drive, can be accessed by foot or bicycle as well as by personal vehicle and public transportation.
“Eastern Glades honors and celebrates what Houstonians love most about the city’s largest urban wilderness and recreation park while providing an expansive new area to explore and discover,” said Memorial Park Conservancy President and CEO Shellye Arnold, a Garden Oaks resident. “We are thrilled to celebrate two important milestones as we deliver this first project of the master plan in concert with the 20th anniversary of the Memorial Park Conservancy.”
Four million Houston residents from more than 170 zip codes visit Memorial Park each year, according to the conservancy, which said the Eastern Glades project was completed first because it meets a variety of visitors’ needs. It was inspired by the original 1930s master plan for the park as devised by landscape architects Hare & Hare.
Serving as the lead design firm for the Eastern Glades was Nelson Byrd Woltz, which also is designing the rest of the 2015 master plan. Arnold said construction will soon start on two earthen land bridges that will cross over Memorial Drive and connect the north and south ends of the park, with completion slated for the latter part of 2022.
Arnold said Phase I of the park’s sports complex is largely complete, but the facilities have yet to open because of the pandemic.
“This opening is just the start of what’s to come,” said Nancy Kinder, president and CEO of the Kinder Foundation. “Memorial Park is a regional treasure, and we look forward to witnessing the park’s continued transformation.”